The Delivery Riders Dying To Work

January 22nd 2021

Images by Tanita Razaghi

This month, UberEats delivery riders went on strike over pay cuts and inadequate job protections. Their collective action comes just months after five riders were tragically killed last year while on the job.

When delivery rider Chow Khai Shien had appeared offline for 17 hours his sister, Josie, in Singapore presumed he had only lost his phone. After 24 hours however, she realised something else may be wrong.

On Saturday 25th October 2020, Chow Khai Shien, a 36-year-old man from Malaysia, was on a delivery route for company DoorDash where he was hit by a car and killed.

His sister tried contacting the Victorian police and Malaysian consulate once she read reports of a “yet to be identified” man passing away. It wasn’t until Chinese-language news outlet Sydney Today had identified the man that their family received consular assistance.

DoorDash did not contact the family until 4 days later.

Food delivery services, such as DoorDash and UberEats, have undoubtedly become the burning flame of the pandemic. Whilst being hailed as the heroes of the pandemic, the rise of the gig economy has exposed the insecure and dangerous work conditions that these delivery riders undertake everyday.

With five food delivery riders killed within the span of two months, the Australian government face an increased pressure to reform and regulate the industry.

A recent survey conducted by the Transport Workers Union in September found food deliverers earned an average of just $10.42 per hour after costs – 73% said they were worried about being “seriously hurt or killed” at work.

Nearly 90% of riders reported their pay had decreased and 70% said they were struggling to pay bills and buy food.

Pictured: Mourners pay their respects outside the UberEats Sydney HQ

Esteban Salazar, a student from Columbia, is another delivery rider who has spoken on his experience of being injured while working. On 20th September 2020, Salazar was delivering food in Sydney’s CBD during rain when he slipped and was hit by a light rail tram.

Salazar explained UberEats covered time off work for 30 days however, since then, had been without any income and has covered medical expenses out of his own pocket. “All the medical expenses I had to attend to by my own.”

“I didn’t have money in my account and needed to work otherwise I wouldn’t survive,” he said. “I wasn’t feeling good at the moment but I had to get back to work as I didn’t have the worker’s compensation.”

“As an UberEats rider, it is very common for riders to fall from the bike,” Esteban said. “There is always some pain involved but you need to keep on working. We don’t have suitable insurance, we are pretty much on our own”

“They don’t provide any safety equipment.”

Salazar expressed that as the majority of the food delivery workers were either international students or recent migrants, English would often be a second language.

“The contracts are very difficult English to learn and most of us are international students.”

“I don’t want others to have the same experience as me. It’s maybe not thrown at you in discrimination but you definitely feel discriminated,” he said. “It’s very unusual to see everybody is covered but somehow you are different”

“I am just being used.”

Pictured: Speakers gather outside UberEats Sydney HQ

On Wednesday 25th November 2020, food delivery riders and Transport Workers Union representatives gathered at UberEats’ Sydney headquarters to hold a vigil for the five riders killed on the roads since September.

At the time, the TWU called on the federal government to reform the sector and “stop the carnage”.

“The death of five workers in less than two months is devastating.”, said the national secretary of the TWU, Michael Kaine. “We need the federal government to act and regulate.”

“Denying workers minimum rates, forcing them to race around to make enough to pay bills and threatening them with sacking if they are even a few minutes late is endangering workers. Workers urgently need minimum pay, training, proper protective gear and insurance.”, Kaine stated.

The NSW government has established a taskforce to investigate the gig economy, with the findings expected to be released later in 2021.

Safework NSW and Transport for NSW will lead the inquiry and examine whether there were risks which could have been avoided that contributed to these fatalities.

Months later, Chow Khai Shien’s death has not left his sister Josie since she heard the news in Singapore.

“I’m still heartbroken to think he lost his life over a few dollars,” she said. “I’m still very shocked that he had no insurance covered by DoorDash in his contract.”

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