The demand for takeout, fueled by the lockdown, has brought crowds of new delivery people to the streets around the world, but in Australia the boom has also seen tragedy with a wave of road deaths highlighting the plight. couriers.
While many industries shut down last year, millions of people lost their jobs and others were invited to work from home, Xiaojun Chen, 43, was among the legions of couriers who rushed to the country. job.
The work was hard, the hours were long, and most of Chen’s paycheck went back to his home in China – but he was motivated by the dream of sending his 15-year-old daughter to college.
Motorcyclists doubled the time they spent traveling the streets of Australia in April and May of last year, when lockouts were in place, according to data from a delivery service, Deliveroo.
Then on September 29, Chen collided with a bus while delivering food to Sydney. He later died in hospital – one of five smugglers to die on Australian roads in just three months of 2020.
“My husband loved his life, looked forward to the future and had a good heart,” his wife Lihong Wei told AFP in tears.
Her loss left Wei shaken and unsure of how she would support elderly parents and two children alone.
Chen Hungry Panda’s company paid for his funeral expenses and his widow to fly to Australia, but his status as a contractor rather than a full-time employee made his help uncertain.
“He’s been working for Panda all this time, and he’s worked so hard, so why isn’t he entitled to the benefits that every staff member is entitled to?” Wei told a New South Wales parliamentary inquiry.
A Hungry Panda spokesperson told AFP that while it is not legally required to do so, the company is still discussing compensation for Chen’s death and is working to improve the safety of runners through the equipment and training.
The “odd-job economy” – using temporary “freelance” workers for short-term tasks – has exploded since the launch of the Uber ridesharing service in 2009.
Promoted as a flexible way for people to earn money without the constraints of a full-time job, working from home is the primary source of income for many.
Steve Khouw, 61, who has been riding for Deliveroo for more than four years, told AFP he started delivering for platforms mainly for exercise, but found that many of his colleagues couriers needed work to survive.
“These people hardly speak English and are very dependent on themselves for their daily life and to send money to their families abroad,” he said.
Runners, who are paid on delivery, often feel pressured to rush to avoid bad reviews that can mean they are started from a platform, Khouw added.
“They can’t afford not to work, to be suspended or to be fired, you know, without recourse. For me, it’s exploitation.
Esteban Linares, who was injured while riding for Uber Eats, says the promise of flexibility wears off when you rely on platforms for a living.
“It’s not as flexible as you might think because if we want to make a profit, we will always have to work during peak hours,” Linares told AFP.
In recent years, legal challenges to the working conditions of construction workers have multiplied around the world, pushing back the lack of employer-provided benefits such as health insurance or minimum wage protections.
Earlier this year, Spain became the first country in the European Union to announce that Deliveroo passengers would be considered salaried staff, with France due to announce delivery hub proposals soon.
– ‘Global struggle’ –
Last month, Australian and New Zealand app Menulog decided to treat its Australian delivery men like employees, following a similar move by European owner Just Eat.
“When people start to get killed and to be hospitalized, that’s where we draw the line,” Menulog chief executive Morten Belling said at a federal parliament hearing in Sydney.
“It doesn’t matter whether they are killed on the Menulog platform or some other platform; we play in the same industry and we don’t want to be part of it. “
The announcement was heralded as a “turning point” by the Australian Transport Workers Union.
But Menulog’s Australian market share is paltry compared to Uber Eats which, according to an IBISWorld study released last year, claims nearly 70% of the industry’s revenue.
A spokeswoman for Uber Eats Australia told AFP the company continued to call for ‘reasonable measures’ to provide benefits and protections but would not follow Menulog as it would reduce flexibility to work for the platform.
The company also said it provides “specialty insurance” to runners to cover injuries and income support for runners injured on the job.
Likewise, Deliveroo said it was determined to improve conditions, but blamed current industry legislation for preventing it from providing increased benefits.
Khouw, who works alongside the transport workers union, tries to negotiate better safety for drivers at Deliveroo, but finds it incredibly difficult to organize lone drivers in a smaller market like Australia.
“We find that in Australia we don’t have the same density of runners as, for example, in Great Britain,” he said.
But as a growing number of runners around the world gather online to share information, he hopes pressure from abroad will fuel change in Australia.
“It is essential to let everyone know that we are not alone,” he said.
“We are part of a global movement, part of a global struggle. “
© 2021 AFP