Food delivery men challenge concert platform safety nets

From leg amputations in Thailand to hijackings in Nigeria, millions of food delivery drivers around the world find themselves torn between desperation to make a living and fear that every trip will be the last.

The odd-job economy has jumped during the Covid-19 pandemic and has led to a wave of concerns from drivers and researchers who say unsafe roads and inadequate safety equipment and training are taking lives in danger daily.

In 2020, there were at least 777 digital work platforms – from food delivery to website design – around the world, up from around 140 a decade earlier, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

In the United States alone, revenues from the country’s four major food delivery apps more than doubled over a five-month period in 2020 – at the height of the Covid lockdowns – to around $ 5.5 billion, according to the MarketWatch financial analysis site.

Read also: Fight against algorithms: Chinese delivery men to the limit

South African couriers in Mexico say they increasingly have to fight over trips to make up for lost income, with the influx of exhausted drivers and what they are warning is a lack of training and safety equipment leading to more accidents.

As researchers and activists say insurance coverage through concert platforms is increasingly common, many drivers report receiving underpayments – or none at all – forcing them to go into debt to pay the bills. medical, bicycle repairs and loans.

“These platforms operate in a legal gray area that allows them to evade regulation and labor protection,” said Kelle Howson, a researcher at Fairwork, a research project on the global economy of concerts at the ‘Oxford Internet Institute in Great Britain.

By classifying workers as “partners,” Howson said, platforms are able to circumvent many social security measures such as health insurance or sick leave, which are described as a universal right by the ILO. . “All the responsibility for everything about our lives, ourselves, our bikes, the fuel is on us… it’s completely unfair,” said Rahul Singh, a 42-year-old former food courier in Mumbai who asked use a pseudonym.

Singh quit his job after being struck by a drunk driver in June, leaving him with an injured ankle and a limp. His motorcycle was badly damaged and he did not receive any insurance compensation from his employer despite claiming one, he added.

Fairwork studied concert working conditions in 43 countries around the world and found that about half of the 191 platforms report offering paid sick leave, which workers say is often difficult to claim.

Today, workers are challenging these policies in courts, on social media and at protests from Kenya to the United States – with some success.

In July, Uber South Africa changed its insurance policy following a presentation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the growing risks drivers face during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Drivers are now eligible for payment after 24 hours in hospital, up from 48 previously.

In August, major concert platforms in Australia like Deliveroo and Uber Eats jointly developed safety principles for food delivery drivers, including access to protective gear and safety training.

And France now requires concert platforms to cover insurance costs related to accidents for self-employed workers, while since the Covid-19 pandemic, Ireland has granted sick leave to all platform workers.

Growing threats

In India, where concert work researchers estimate there are half a million food couriers working primarily for Zomato and Swiggy, orders and accidents have increased during the pandemic, as drivers increasingly take jobs and risks on the road to make ends meet.

Kaveri Medappa, a doctoral student at the University of Sussex who works on food delivery drivers in India, said accidents involving couriers happen daily in her home country, with fatalities becoming more frequent .

Gourmet couriers in other countries report similar challenges.

Mexican activist group Ni Un Repartidor Menos (“All delivery drivers count”) estimates that there are around 3 million delivery drivers, most of whom saw their earnings before the pandemic drop by around 2,500. at 3,000 pesos ($ 124-150) per week at 1150-1300 now.

In Georgia, licenses are not legally required to drive a scooter – so concert venues don’t need them either.

But unions say road accidents involving food couriers are so common that parliament this month passed a law that will require moped riders – who are almost exclusively food delivery drivers – to hold a driver’s license and vehicle registration.

Road safety is not the only threat facing drivers.

“We get several calls a week from drivers who have been assaulted, harassed or beaten,” said Bryant Greenling, lawyer and founder of LegalRideshare, a Chicago-based law firm.

“(Food couriers) are sitting ducks for criminals,” he said.

LegalRideshare has represented more than 50 food couriers in lawsuits in the United States on issues ranging from workplace accidents and assaults to driver account deactivations, Greenling added.

In Nigeria, Uber driver and union activist Ayoade Ibrahim estimates that there are some 20,000 food couriers and around 18 drivers lose their lives each month due to accidents and hijackings.

“Another problem is that dealers use drivers to transport drugs hidden in food packages, which puts them at risk of arrest,” said Ibrahim, who is also vice president of the International Alliance. application-based transport workers (IAATW), a global worker. association.

Policies and Warnings

While researchers from concert platforms like Howson estimate that accident insurance exists in dozens of countries, they say health insurance is much rarer and both types of policies often come with caveats. .

“The devil is in the details with these insurance policies,” Howson said.

Thai drivers from local food delivery companies like Line Man say they need to reach 350 deliveries per month to get free one-month accident insurance coverage, capped at 50,000 Thai baht ($ 1,480 ) in the event of death.

A spokesperson for Line Man did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

In Nigeria, Bolt, which launched in 2019, told drivers in an August email viewed by the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the first 1,200 drivers to complete 200 trips in a month would receive a month of care. free health care.

Bolt did not respond to requests for comment.

“It’s like our lives are reduced to a promotional offer, to a competition,” Ibrahim said.

In India, a dozen couriers said they were not given any safety equipment or training to do their jobs, with similar reports of drivers in Nigeria and Thailand.

“The platforms see it as crucial to their business model to insist that workers are self-employed,” Howson said, and that by providing platforms for protective equipment, they would tacitly recognize responsibility, exposing them to legal challenges.

Even when insurance coverage is available, drivers say caveats such as time spent in hospital or capping payment to a certain number of days prevent them from taking full advantage of policies.

In Georgia, for example, Wolt’s insurance covers damage to the property of a third party but not that of the courier, leaving it to cover the cost of repairing its vehicle.

Wolt said insurance covering personal property of couriers is outside the company’s current scope “because such insurance would require employment status, which our partners do not want.”

Concert platforms Swiggy and Zomato in India said they offer a range of courier assistance services, including accident coverage, medical insurance and 24/7 phone support.

But a dozen drivers surveyed said payments can take so long, if ever, to come that they instead look to family and friends for loans after an accident.

Pratap, a 26-year-old West Bengal courier who broke his arm in a traffic accident last year at work, has turned to his network to help pay for hospital care.

“I needed the money fast… I was like ‘Should I wait for the endless back and forth, paperwork or should I just ask for a loan from the people who are looking after me?’ – I went with the latter… It just made more sense. “

“Can be positive”

From anonymous Twitter accounts to WhatsApp and Facebook groups, food delivery drivers around the world go online to share stories, support and fundraise for their injured colleagues, often using these spaces to plan protests or strikes.

Between January 2017 and May 2020, there were at least 527 reports of global unrest by food delivery workers – such as protests, strikes and lawsuits – according to the German charity Friedrich-Ebert -Stiftung.

Legal cases involving the working conditions of drivers are on the rise from South Africa to Great Britain, with Uber agreeing in February to offer work rights to its more than 70,000 British drivers.

In some countries, entrepreneurs and couriers themselves are trying to reshape the social security system of the concert industry.

South African social enterprise MotionAds sells branded advertising space on delivery bikes, with drivers receiving a share of campaign expenses as well as perks such as roadside assistance, training and safety equipment.

In Europe, the CoopCycle federation invites couriers, cooperatives and restaurants to use their open software to create worker-owned delivery platforms.

Couriers said customers also have a role to play, from being attentive to ratings and reviews, tipping well and meeting realistic delivery times without calling and distracting drivers to an update.

But the researchers say the real change will come from regulations, policy changes and applicable laws that protect workers’ rights.

“There is nothing fundamentally wrong with working on a platform, it can be a positive thing,” Howson said.

“But the way it’s manifesting now is very exploitative.”

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