Junk Explained: What Happens When A Food Courier Dies On The Job?
Five people have died while making food deliveries in the past two months.
While many industries have been bought to a standstill in recent months, one service has soared throughout of the pandemic: food delivery.
But as the demand for this service increases, so do the risks for those providing it. Five food delivery workers have been killed on Australian roads in the past two months.
According to government research, the person delivering your takeaway dinner is most likely to be a young, foreign worker. That’s a group that has been left with little to no financial support during the economic crisis, and with many now in vulnerable financial positions the pressure to work longer and harder is making a risky job even riskier.
While insurance is available in many cases for delivery workers who are injured or killed while working, Michael Kain from the Transport Workers Union told Junkee it’s often an insufficient measure put in place to protect the company’s reputation, not the workers.
“I think if you asked anyone do they like the convenience of being able to order food online they would say ‘yes’,” he said.
“If you asked anyone though, ‘would you pay a little bit extra to make sure that the worker thatʼs providing this service is paid properly, has appropriate safety, is properly trained and if something goes wrong has access to appropriate compensation, would you do that?’ And I think most people would absolutely say ‘yes’.”
How Many Couriers Have We Lost On Our Roads?
On average, one food delivery driver has died in Australia every 11 days since September 27.
The Guardian journalist Naaman Zhou has been carefully documenting the deaths of these delivery workers — the majority of whom have been confirmed to be foreign workers.
On Monday night, an Uber Eats driver in Sydney was killed after being hit by a truck while completing a delivery in Sydney. Their identity has yet to be publicly confirmed.
Only a day earlier another Uber Eats courier, 27-year-old Bangladeshi man Bijou Paul, died in Sydney after being hit by a car.
On October 24 Chow Khai Shien, a 36-year-old from Malaysia, was killed in Melbourne while delivering for DoorDash.
Xiaojun Chen, 43, died on September 27 while delivering food for Hungry Panda in Sydney. Two days later, Uber Eats courier Dede Fredy, 36, was killed in another accident.
Both men were working as delivering drivers to send money back to their families, in China and Indonesia respectively.
Neglected cyclist road safety meets business exploitation of casualised labour
— Matthew Spillane (@SpillaneMj) November 23, 2020
Why Are Standards So Poor Across The Industry?
On this, Michael is quite blunt.
“The question we really need to ask is a difficult one, but we need to ask it, and that is: Is government inaction related to the fact that these are overseas students, are they in a sense invisible to our regulators? Do we really care enough?” he asked.
“Theyʼre really hard questions, but theyʼre ones that we need to answer, because if we are turning a blind eye simply because itʼs in relation to workers who are coming from overseas then … weʼre also doing a disservice to every Australian worker because weʼre dragging down the standards that weʼve built up for decades, and thatʼs not good for anyone in the economy.”
Yesterday the inquiry into contact tracing in Victoria heard that half of all Covid cases in the state were people born overseas. Combine that with recent Uber deaths and you can’t ignore our migrant underclass, getting sick and dying while most of us remain safe and comfortable.
— Osman Faruqi (@oz_f) November 23, 2020
Aside from the risk of accidents, delivery drivers are also subject to abuse and assault while on the road. Michael would like to see more pressure put on lawmakers to legally protect these workers.
“We all want to know that when we are using these services, the people that are bringing them to our door are not being exploited and are not in literally mortal danger,” he said.
“Letʼs hold these companies to account, theyʼre reaping billions, the least that they could do is make sure the workers they engage are safe.”
What Rights Do They Have?
After Monday’s tragic death, the NSW government established a new taskforce to investigate the fatalities of food delivery riders.
They will assess the safety measures of the companies, look for similarities between the deaths, and determine whether there are safety improvements that need to be made.
Michael said in many cases a dangerous job navigating road traffic is being made more dangerous by the pressure riders are under to complete jobs as quickly as possible.
“And if they have a couple of delays in a row they can be kicked off the platform completely with no recourse and no capacity to speak to anyone about it,” he said.
“Itʼs usually driven by an algorithm and if you donʼt comply with what the algorithm says, you know, thatʼs a very stressful situation and itʼs a recipe for disaster — and what weʼre seeing here is the most horrific consequences of that with people losing their lives.
“I think if they were given appropriate training, if the time frames that they were provided to do the work were appropriate, if they were paid appropriately for the work that they did, all of that lifts pressure.”
The gig economy is 19th exploitation with a 21st century app. It has resulted in the death of five food delivery riders in the last 2 months.
The unregulated gig economy is killing workers and the Government refuses to regulate it.
— Australian Unions (@unionsaustralia) November 24, 2020
People do this dangerous work because they can’t afford to pay their living expenses & good, safe, well paid jobs are few & far between. The govt allows Uber to take advantage of people, making their massive profits whilst offering no support to workers. #auspol #UberEats
— Bygone Diva (@BygoneDiva) November 24, 2020
A NSW inquiry is already looking into food delivery in the gig economy — a report from the first phase of their research found there was an “exponential increase” in the number of injuries over the last few years. In 2017, for example, there was one reported incident. In the first half of this year, there were 19.
But Michael said in many cases incidents are not being reported by the companies as workplace accidents.
“In face it’s been up to the union to call up the workplace regulator to report these as workplace deaths,” he said.
“These are avoidable deaths.
“What we really need here is a system in place to support these workers, make sure they’re getting paid enough, so they don’t have to work too fast or too long to make a living, make sure they’ve got appropriate safety equipment and make sure they’re supported by these companies that are reaping billions of dollars out of these services.”
Sadly, many bicyclists have been killed over the years in Australia. Nothing has changed yet. Attitude towards bicycling and bicyclists needs to change, and infrastructure needs to be built to support alternative modes of transportation such as bicycling.
— Digital Ethnography (@SharonG) November 26, 2020
The typical food delivery worker is typically under 30, male, and in Australia on a student visa.
These foreign workers have been doing it tough during the pandemic — without citizenship or permanent residency people are ineligible for both JobKeeper and JobSeeker, which has put many in a precarious position.
Various state governments moved to fill the gap, but in many cases that support has been insufficient.
In New South Wales, for example, support for international students extended as far as emergency accommodation — but only for those who are facing eviction, have been laid off, and have less than $1500 with “no other avenues of support”.
What Do Delivery Companies Say?
Junkee spoke to several of these delivery companies to find out more about the rights of food delivery workers across apps.
While many already have some form of insurance in place, Michael said in many cases they’re not up to scratch.
“Some of these companies have put insurance policies in place but theyʼre deficient, and they donʼt come near the standard that employees enjoy right across our economy,” he said.
“Really itʼs just them trying their best to avoid reputational damage as opposed to really feeling for those workers, stepping up for them and making sure theyʼre protected.
“We need the federal government to step up and put a national system in place.”
Three of the five workers who were killed on the job were couriers for Uber Eats — perhaps unsurprising, considering they’re the market leader in Australia.
In the second quarter of 2020 Uber Technologies reported $10.2 billion in gross bookings (total revenue before paying drivers and couriers) — an eye-watering figure that’s actually a 35 percent decline on the previous year.
An Uber spokesperson told Junkee their thoughts were with the family and loved ones of the rider who lost their life on Monday.
“In isolation this fatality is devastating. But when considered alongside other recent incidents across the on-demand food delivery sector, it is all the more concerning. It is clear that more needs to be done to improve road safety, and we are committed to playing a leading role in achieving this.”
The spokesperson also said after the latest fatality they notified Safework NSW and contacted their insurance team.
Uber Eats couriers are covered by a support package, which includes insurance if they are injured or have an accident. They also have a fatigue management plan, which requires couriers to take an eight-hour break after spending 12 hours cumulatively on the app, with bicycle riders also given safety information when they sign in.
A DoorDash spokesperson said all “Dashers” receive occupational accident insurance at no cost to them, which covers them for injuries and accidental deaths.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Chow Khai Shien, a Melbourne-area Dasher. We are in touch with his family, and have paid for funeral expenses in addition to providing further financial support during this difficult time,” they told Junkee.
At Deliveroo, riders are given free personal injury insurance, which activates when the rider logs on and last up to an hour after their last delivery. They also have free public liability insurance. Riders are also given in-app messages to remind riders of road roads and safety tips.
Menulog is in the process of rolling out insurance for their entire courier network in the instance of accidental injury or death. They also have access to optional safety gear like hi-vis gear and helmets.
A spokesperson also said they’re also working with various government and industry stakeholders to develop initiatives to improve workplace health and safety for couriers.
“We recognise the increasing need for initiatives that will help ensure the safe operation of delivery services and the safety of food couriers as the industry continues to expand and more people turn to on-demand services for flexible work.”