Not-so-safe delivery: Riders’ trip to unsafe working conditions

May 17, 2023


MANILA – In the ever-growing landscape of digital consumerism exacerbated by the pandemic-related travel restrictions, there is increasing dependence on transport network vehicle services (TNVS), high cost notwithstanding.

In Metro Manila alone, there are 22,000 delivery riders, according to the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB).

Bulatlat interviewed delivery riders from several companies to know their health and safety situations.

A day in the life of a delivery rider

Delivery riders can be spotted out in the streets even before sunrise. Most of them start working even before 4:00 a.m. and leave the streets in the dead of the night, according to Grab driver Paeng (not his real name).

Paeng used to be a truck driver, earning only the National Capital Region’s prescribed minimum wage rate of P537 ($9.65).

As a breadwinner providing for the needs of children ranging from give to nine years old, Paeng lamented how his salary was not enough, especially when the pandemic hit the country.

This forced him to become a delivery rider in 2020 with hopes of increasing his income.

According to the study by Rochelle Porras, Iggy Sandrino and Orly Putong titled “Digitization of exploitation: Study on the platform workers in the gig economy in PH,” the pandemic exposed the worsening job situation in the country as around nine million Filipinos experienced joblessness from 2020 to 2021.

Because of this, many unemployed ones joined app-based online delivery services like Grab, FoodPanda, Shopee, Lazada, and Lalamove.

While Paeng’s salary as a delivery rider proved to be higher, he also experienced severe fatigue, as well as health and safety risks.

He said that he needs to work for 17 to 20 hours to earn a net take-home pay of P1,000 ($17.97) in one day. He added how his company Grab is lax when it comes to the amount of time their employees/partners work. The riders themselves set an internal quota system to earn more.

However, he said that even P1,000 per day is insufficient for his family in the wake of increased prices of basic necessities. “Maybe the P1,000 salary per day was enough before, but now, budgeting is becoming difficult because I need to pay the bills, and the food prices are getting higher.”

Mikoy*, another Grab driver, is also in the same situation as he never stops working until he earns P1,000 per day for his family of five. He added this is just enough for his family’s needs and other expenditures including gasoline which he said is not shouldered by the company.

Out-of-pocket expenses, items without reimbursement

Aside from the gas and other maintenance shouldered by the riders, they are also required to provide their own tools and resources.

A delivery rider featured in a 2021 study about platform workers said that Grab also recommends its partner riders to purchase dri-fit shirts and requires the purchase of the delivery thermal bags with logos from the company, amounting to over P2,500 ($44.91).

Meanwhile, the same study said that FoodPanda charges P3,000 ($53.90) for the same items, and riders are required to pay if the items are damaged. Lalamove, on the other hand, rents its thermal bags to its workers for P200 ($3.59) monthly.

Aside from these, the majority of the riders who were interviewed were victims of “fake bookings.”

Anna*, a Grab Express rider and a mother of five, said that they are not protected from glitches in the system and from fake bookings/reports.

“I have experienced fake bookings maybe four times already, but our company does not reimburse the money we spent on it. Because of this, I just move on and bring the products home so they will not be wasted,” said Anna.

Grab workers must receive the buyers’ order first and must ensure the delivery is successful before being paid for the amount of the order. If the customers failed to receive their orders, the amount paid for the deliveries will be shouldered by the riders. This is also the policy for e-commerce Shopee and Lazada.

During the delivery riders’ forum organized by Kilos na para sa Kalusugan, Kabuhayan at Karapatan (K4) last August 29, it was revealed that Grab deduct a so-called “platform fee” to the riders’ salary. For example, if the consumer paid P59 ($1.06), the rider would only get approximately P45 to P51 ($0.81 – $0.92). If it is a long-distance booking with a P100 ($1.80) delivery service charge, the riders can only pocket P75 to P80 ($1.35 – $1.44).

To make ends meet on top of the out-of-the-pocket expenses, riders seek multiple delivery jobs in other platforms or other companies under the same condition.

Unstoppable riders, double booking

For Grab Express rider Anna, being a female delivery rider is more challenging. She is one of the delivery riders who have to juggle multiple jobs. She takes care of her children first thing in the morning before she can go out in the streets and work, which usually starts at 11:00 a.m.

Her husband is also a delivery rider for a company but because he has gout, a type of arthritis, Anna needs to step up. Thus, she applied as a delivery rider in the same company to compensate for her husband’s income loss. “We are earning money, but barely enough to save anything. Despite working for long hours, we can only save enough to continue for the next day. We don’t have savings for my daughter who is currently in college.”

If she works until 8:00 p.m., she can take home at least P700 ($12.58) per day, depending on the number of bookings. Like Paeng, she targets to take at least 16 deliveries which will pay her P1,500 ($26.95) but she fails to fulfill this quota most of the time, especially if there are hardly any bookings assigned by Grab.

Echo, also not his real name, is a delivery rider for Lalamove and Toktok, also an express courier service provider. Despite juggling double booking jobs for 12 – 16 hours a day, he only takes home an average of P900 ($16.18). “If I limit myself to working only for eight hours a day, I would get less than P600 with only six to seven deliveries. This would not suffice for our everyday expenses in the family especially with the rising prices of basic commodities.”

Drivers’ safety for safe delivery

For Paeng, cases of road accidents remain the worst adversary in his job. “It is not only a dead-end for us, but also for our families.”

He had six accidents in his first two years as a delivery rider.

Data from the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) recorded some 24,000 motorcycle-related accidents, of which 258 resulted in deaths. This translates to around 66 motorcycle-related accidents a day.

“The worst I experienced was way back in 2020 because I was crippled for a week and I needed time to recover. During those times, Grab has not yet offered accident insurance for riders like us,” Paeng said.

Paeng said that Grab released accident insurance for its riders in late 2022. Despite this, he remains hopeless in availing of it.

“It causes inconvenience to the riders since the process is tediously long and hard for us. It needs police reports, incident reports, barangay coordination, and the casa’s checking in case our motors are still under installment, among others,” Paeng said.

In the K4 forum, it was revealed that Grab riders can only get their insurance if they had 200 deliveries in 21 days; and if the accident happened while they were working and their application is on.

Some riders who got involved in accidents only received cash assistance worth P500 ($9.02) to P1,000 ($18.03).

Paeng, meanwhile, said that he has not received any compensation from the company in his past accidents.

In the Employees’ Compensation Program released by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), it is clear that injuries resulting from accidents out of and in the course of employment are compensable.

However, since the majority of the delivery riders do not have an employee-employer relationship with the platform companies, maintaining their status as contractors or freelancers, delivery riders are left on their own.

Just this year, several groups lamented the death of a delivery rider from Cagayan de Oro City, strengthening their calls for health and accident insurance.

Jasper Dalman, 19, died in an accident while working on February 19, 2023. He was also part of the organizing effort of the United Riders of the Philippines (RIDERS-SENTRO-IUF). 

Work-related illnesses

Aside from the environmental hazards and accidents that delivery riders face while working, they are also vulnerable to developing work-related health issues like musculoskeletal disorders.

According to the National Library of Medicine, Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) consist of diverse conditions affecting the bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissues of the body that may result in pain and function loss. Among the categories of MSDs are back disorders, osteoarthritis, and other arthropathies or joint diseases.

study on the development of work-related MSDs among motorcyclists in Nigeria shows that 53 percent to 91 percent of motorcycle drivers in different parts of the world have MSDs.

In Nigeria alone, 92 percent of 122 commercial motorcyclist respondents who are working for more than six hours per day reported that they have work-related MSDs. One of the most common pain they experience is in the lower back. The majority of the driver respondents were only below 41 years old.

About 56 percent of respondents said that they need to be absent for work due to the pain they experience from MSDs.

This is because driving entails routine muscular effort, awkward sitting posture, long driving time, and whole-body vibration which can also lead to accident, injury, or death.

For delivery riders like Paeng, back pain, and other muscle aches are “normal” as they work for more than 15 hours per day. “If you’re a new rider, you will probably gripe and take the discomfort seriously but if you work as a delivery rider for years, these muscle aches, cramps and hand pains become normal. If there is no booking, you have no option but to sit again and wait.”

Aside from this, fatigue is also one of the health issues that delivery riders face. Paeng shared that sometimes, he would work from 2:00 a.m. to 12:00 a.m., resulting in lack of sleep and restlessness.

In a study conducted in Great Britain regarding health and safety risks of drivers in the gig economy, the participants stated how extreme work fatigue affects their jobs and safety while working.

“You’re literally non-stop. You’re tired and what was happening, there were times when I was riding a bike and I could just feel myself so exhausted. I just wanted to close my eyes and when you reach that stage, you’re just like, you know what, you need to stop. I have seen people that don’t, they just carry on,” a food delivery rider said in the British study.

As the riders’ work takes place outdoors, they are also exposed to various environmental conditions like pollution and weather.

In the Philippines, seasonal temperature changes are evident and riders are among those most exposed to extreme weather changes. This affects their work and health as they develop sickness after being exposed to both heat and rain.

Mikoy, in an interview with Bulatlat, shared how he had to be absent for two days after developing the flu from being exposed to inclement weather. “Sometimes, the weather is too hot and then the rain suddenly pours down. I need to work even if it’s raining. I just stay under a shed or tree if the rain is too heavy then be back to work if the rain slows down.”

A 2018 review on health risks associated with occupational exposure to ambient air pollution among commercial drivers revealed commercial drivers had decreased white blood cell counts, increased risks for lung and bladder cancer, as well as increased risks of mortality from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, lung cancer, and ischemic heart disease after being exposed to air pollution while working.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these illnesses are associated with employers’ spending more money as the workers experiencing these, need to take leaves due to the pain, lost productivity, and need to be compensated as they developed the illness during work.

But in the Philippines, riders said that they do not have the privilege to undergo medical check-ups as the companies they are working for do not give any health or accident insurance.

“We don’t have medical insurance. If you’re sick, you need to be absent. That’s why, we drink medicine or just take a rest if we are not feeling well,” Paeng said.

Are delivery riders protected by the PH law?

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) released Labor Advisory number 14, Series of 2021 titled “Working conditions of delivery riders in food delivery and courier activities.”

Under this advisory, the presence of employer-employee relationship will be checked using the four-fold, economic reality, and independent contractor tests.

Aside from this, the law states that all delivery riders who are deemed employees should be entitled to benefits such as minimum wage, holiday pay, overtime pay, thirteenth-month, and occupational safety and health standards including SSS, PhilHealth, and Pag-IBIG, among others.

However, the delivery riders interviewed by Bulatlat said that they have not received a single cent of benefits and incentives.

Mikoy said that for almost two years working as a delivery rider, he did not receive any benefits and he even shouldered the expenses for motorcycle maintenance and gas.

For his part, Paeng said, “If you want to have benefits like SSS, you should pay voluntarily and deduct it from your daily salary.”

Despite what is happening on the ground, the recent SC ruling favoring the illegally dismissed riders of Lazada, gives hope to delivery riders and workers alike.

The SC debunks the idea that there was no employer-employee relationship between delivery riders and the company (Lazada), under the basis of a four-fold test. There are four factors to consider to prove that there is an employer-employee relationship between the company and the individuals: a) the employer’s selection and engagement of the employee; b) payment of wages; c) the power to dismiss; and d) the power to control the employee’s conduct.

The Court finds all factors from the four-fold test present between the riders and the company.

Riders-Sentro affirmed this decision and said that delivery riders are entitled to trade union and labor rights, as well as other necessary privileges as regular employees.

“The nature of work of delivery riders is unquestionably necessary and desirable to the business and trade of the companies to whom they render their services. Without them, companies engaged in the delivery business have actually no business to speak of. Thus, delivery riders are deemed regular employees by operation of law, regardless of the existence of any work contracts they signed,” Riders-Sentro said.

In the 19th Congress, Sen. Risa Hontiveros filed Senate Bill No. 1373 or Protektadong Online Workers, Entrepreneurs, Riders, at Raketera (POWERR) Act of 2022. However, the bill remains pending at the committee level as of November 7, 2022.

The bill seeks to ensure that online platform workers are classified as regular employees, not as independent contractors, self-employed, or “any other classification falling outside the ambit of an employer-employee relationship.”

This bill also seeks to ensure portability of social protection programs or benefits, stating that online platform providers are deemed liable to the injuries or other safety and health concerns of the riders.

Blocking the way to union

On top of the SC ruling, the DOLE also released an advisory which states: “Riders shall also enjoy the right to security of tenure, self-organization, and collective bargaining.”

However, this is not what’s happening in the country. Paeng fears joining the workers’ union since there’s always a dismissal threat following participation in the workers’ group.

“I know that joining a union is not allowed in our company. Whatever Grab says, we have no choice but to follow instead of losing our jobs,” said Paeng.

Aside from Paeng, all riders interviewed by Bulatlat also pleaded to hide their real names to protect their privacy, and to ensure that they will still be able to operate or continue their jobs.

For riders, if they join a protest, union, or any form of action to express their dissent, the company will retaliate with repressive measures.

Back in 2022, the union of delivery riders RIDERS-SENTRO-IUF conducted a peaceful rally to ‘draw attention to the insecurity, unfair treatment and lack of protection faced by delivery riders.’

However, as per the report of IUF Asia-Pacific, Grab Philippines terminated two of its riders Mark Larson Vallejo and Mary Rose Cenidoza after learning that they joined the protest.

This is the same situation with several dismissed riders of delivery service company FoodPanda Philippines. In the first quarter of 2021, FoodPanda riders complained about their low income which only ranges from P200 ($3.59) to P600 ($10.78) after working eight hours per day but the administration remained mum.

Because of this, they started planning a “no-show” protest action against the company, which did not push through because they would not be earning anything.

EILER’s study concludes that, “riders find it illogical and illegal that online-based TNVS companies would prevent or disallow its independent partners from forming their own organizations or unions since they are considered as independent contractors.”

However, they also stated that the threats of suspension have not deterred the workers from uniting and organizing their ranks.

In November 2020, hundreds of Grab cyclists dashed to the company’s head office after they received threats of dismissal if they organize a protest.

A year later in July, delivery workers’ group Davao United Delivery Riders Association Inc. (DUDRAI) led a mass protest against wage cuts by FoodPanda.

“We saw that it was the only way for us to fight for our rights. Because if we do it individually, they will never notice us. They would just terminate us, and we would have a hard time fighting back. At least now that I have a union to support me, I can fight,” Larson said in an article published by the Solidarity Center.

Platform workers’ rights are human rights

For riders’ group Kapatiran sa Dalawang Gulong (Kagulong), the right to social security and job security are the two most important rights that every worker should assert.

But, these are the rights that have been deprived from delivery riders.

“The problem is, technology occurred first before the policy. The platform industry arised without any protection for its delivery workers. They are experiencing non-coverage in social security, job insecurity, inadequate pay and there is also a big gap in social dialogue because riders are deemed as independent contractors – they don’t have a union so no one can bargain for decent working conditions,” Don Pangan, secretary general of Kagulong, said.

He added that some delivery riders can only take home P800 ($14.41) and if they need to deduct motorcycle maintenance, fuel, cellphone load or data, and other work needs that are not shouldered by the company, they can only keep at least P428 ($7.72).

This is relatively lower than the minimum wage in NCR, and way below than the needed daily cost of living of around P1,200 ($21.64).

“I hope they will protect us and give us the necessary benefits because we also have families. These corporations earn money because of us even though they don’t recognize us as their employees. We are not just their partners. I also hope the Marcos Jr. administration will create laws that will protect platform riders like us,” Anna said.

Aside from the financial aspect, platform riders also decry the lack of protection when it comes to their safety.

For Mikoy, their life is always on the line when they go out in the streets. “We are one hospital away when working, that’s why we really need to keep our guards up.”

Delivery riders are vulnerable when it comes to accidents, but adding to their plight is the lack of compassion and insurance from their supposed employers.

The case of 19-year-old FoodPanda delivery rider Dalman highlights the hazardous work of platform riders. This tragic incident led to back-to-back actions to condemn FoodPanda.

“All we will say is that we have lost young Jasper to the hazardous conditions imposed by delivery companies. His death was preventable, it was avoidable, it was not an accident. He was killed by unsafe work. And we must stop this,” International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tourism, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF – Asia Pacific) said in a statement.

Pangan called for the current administration to intervene and acknowledge the rights of the motorcycle riders in the country. “Our pandemic heroes – the delivery riders – played a crucial role in keeping the economy afloat especially during the pandemic. Their roles in society are very important, yet they still experience various problems. This industry really created gaps in their labor rights.” (RTS, DAA, RVO

The story is supported by Google News Initiative News Equity Fund.

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