Australia’s gig economy road toll is growing, with five food delivery riders killed in the past two months – and those tragic deaths have ignited debate over the rights of workers.
While the companies behind the apps rake in pandemic profits, workers’ advocates warn we will see more delivery riders die and be injured on our roads with limited rights to compensation if nothing changes.
Hungry Panda delivery rider Xiaojun Chen died after being hit by a bus while delivering food in Sydney on September 29.
Last week, representatives of the firm failed to front a NSW parliamentary inquiry looking into the death, with no explanation given.
Mr Chen’s widow, Lihong Wei, was told by Hungry Panda that they considered her husband to be an independent contractor, not an employee, so she would not be entitled to compensation.
Slater and Gordon lawyer Jasmina Mackovic is now representing Mrs Wei and pursuing a death-benefit claim under the NSW workers’ compensation scheme.
“They’ve lost the breadwinner and they don’t want this sort of thing to happen to any other family, especially given the state of that industry, and the fact that there’s all these loopholes, and there’s really no proper compensation,” Ms Mackovic said.
Mr Chen was the sole income earner for his family back in China, and his death has left Mrs Wei to support herself and their two children with no guarantee of financial compensation from either Hungry Panda or the state government.
Like many gig economy workers, Mr Chen was a migrant on a temporary visa.
These workers are not entitled to the federal government’s pandemic safety nets JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and they have little option but to take on low-paid, insecure and risky gig economy jobs to survive.
Gig economy companies have a history of pouring large sums into lobbying against workers’ rights.
In California, Uber and Lyft recently spent more than a-quarter-of-a-billion dollars to successfully fight law reform that would have seen gig economy contractors classified as employees.
In September, a Transport Workers’ Union survey of delivery riders in Australia showed that average earnings after costs were just over $10 an hour.
More than one in three riders said they had been injured on the job, with the vast majority (80 per cent) receiving no support from their companies.
The NSW government this week set up a taskforce to investigate the four delivery rider deaths on the state’s roads in the past two months.
But gig workers’ rights are a national issue and need to be addressed by both federal government and state governments, Ms Mackovic said.
“Both state and federal governments have a role to play to ensure that these companies don’t avoid their responsibilities, and to ensure they adequately protect the people that work for them,” she said.
Transport Workers’ Union national secretary Michael Kaine also called for the federal government to step in and “acknowledge its role”.
“It’s not good enough that states are in a piecemeal way trying to address the problem,” Mr Kaine said.
“We need the Federal Government to act and regulate.”
Hungry Panda did not respond to questions put to it by The New Daily.