TL;DR – Ever wondered about the number of injuries and fatalities suffered by food and goods delivery riders?
If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that change is the only constant in the pandemic world. Oh that, and the fact that nothing comes in between Singaporeans and our love for food, and bubble tea… Since the beginning of the pandemic, food delivery riders have been working tirelessly to put food on the table, both for people who order them via various food delivery platforms, and for families of their own. While the vast majority of Singaporeans adapted to working from home, food delivery riders were out on the road to make ends meet.
Since most of us only ever interact with food delivery riders when they show up at our doorsteps, we want to highlight some of the risks that these unsung heroes have to go through — some less obvious than others — on a daily basis.
1. Singapore’s weather is actively working against them
Let’s begin with the obvious. The running joke in Singapore is that our weather is either ‘hot’, ‘very hot’ or ‘raining’ — and none of them are good for food delivery riders. When you have a dozen orders to fulfil within the hour, hydration sometimes becomes a secondary concern, which is a terrible thing to do under the hot, unforgiving sun. At best, the rider feels a bit parched and grabs a quick drink at the nearby petrol station in between deliveries; at worst, the rider suffers from health complications, from heat exhaustion to something more serious.
Rain, too, poses a different form of challenge. Wet roads and pavements mean that food delivery riders are constantly in danger of slipping and injuring themselves. Every food delivery rider has experienced the sensation of riding over a metal drain cover or a tactile paving (those yellow dotted indicators on footpaths meant for visually impaired pedestrians), feeling their bicycle or PMD slip and seeing their lives flash before their eyes. Even after the rain, these common features on pavements continue to be death traps.
And deaths do happen, too. During a recent session at the Parliament, Melvin Yong, Assistant Secretary-General of NTUC and the Executive Secretary of the National Transport Workers’ Union (NTWU), asked about the number of injuries and fatalities suffered by food and goods delivery riders. Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon revealed that “there were two deaths each year in 2019 and 2020. There were no deaths in 2018 — the first year such figures were tracked”.
2. Singapore’s traffic is actively working against them
Singapore’s car ownership has been slowly but steadily falling over the years, though one would be hard pressed to see the difference at peak hours. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes jostle for space on roadways large and small, and somewhere in between those vehicles are food delivery riders trying to make their deliveries on time.
Furthermore, with a higher demand for food deliveries during the pandemic period, accident rates, too, have increased over the years. In fact, according to the same article, nine out of 10 delivery riders said that they had “met with accidents or knew of fellow riders who had met with accidents since they started working in the industry”. The most common reasons? Rushing to complete orders, rash motorists and pedestrians who are not alert on the roads.
Now, nobody wants to get into road accidents of any kind. However, the average motorist at least has the peace of mind that they are covered by insurance should anything happen out there on the road — but what about food delivery riders? What happens if something, knock on wood, happens to them?
3. There’s a lack of medical benefits or health insurance
Most employees enjoy basic benefits at the workplace — and that is a good thing. It means that if a factory worker accidentally twists his back while carrying heavy boxes, the company has his medical costs covered — but not food delivery riders. Since food delivery riders do not have employment contracts with the respective online platforms and are not covered under the Employment Act, they are not eligible for basic labour protections, such as workplace injury compensation and personal accident insurance.
Not being a part of the Employment Act also means that employers do not have to contribute to food delivery riders’ Central Provident Fund (CPF). This means that, on top of not having medical coverage, if a food delivery rider chalks up a hefty medical bill due to work, they will not have enough funds in their CPF.
Then there is COVID-19 to consider. Since experts now think that there is a chance for the virus to have spread through vegetables being touched at food markets, food delivery riders, then, are at a heightened risk of contracting the disease. Even if they are not hospitalised, being quarantined also means time away from work and a loss of income.
4. Vicious, over-zealous pets
Pet ownership has been slowly increasing in Singapore, and not all pets are of the docile, submissive variety. Every food delivery rider can attest to the primal terror they experience when confronted by fanged ferocities that answer the door instead of the owner of the house.
Of course, such encounters usually end with nothing more than a frightened food delivery rider and the owner dragging his/her pet back into the house — but what if the food delivery rider isn’t so lucky? What if, instead of your friendly neighbourhood food delivery rider, the Huskie sees the rider as an easy lunch? Although improbable, such incidents are not exactly impossible, either.
5. Vicious, over-zealous customers
Frontline workers haven’t had it easy during the pandemic. There have been cases of nurses and social distancing enforcement officers alike being harassed or even abused — and the same goes for food delivery riders also.
Food delivery riders are often caught between a rock and a hard place. The speed and timeliness by which they deliver their orders are dependent on several factors, from how fast the restaurants prepare the orders to the road and weather conditions. Delays are inevitable and, when they do happen, food delivery riders are often the ones having to explain their tardiness.
Such situations seldom, if ever, lead to physical altercations, but what about the mental health of our frontline workers? What happens after months of verbal abuse from vicious, irrational customers who refuse to see reason? While physical safety is paramount, mental health, too, is just as important for our frontline workers.
6. There’s a lack of financial safety net
The great thing about being a food delivery rider is that you get exactly what you work for every day: you earn less if you deliver fewer orders, and you earn more if you deliver more orders. However, what if a delivery is late? Or what if you can’t hit your daily target? The freedom that food delivery platforms afford their delivery riders is there, but there is certainly an inherent risk of not making enough — or, worse, being penalised for being late.
The list doesn’t stop there, either. Since food delivery riders are, at least for now, not part of the Employment Act, they are not protected against unfair hiring and firing practices. If the company decides to let go of 50% of its fleet of food delivery riders for whatever reason, the riders themselves will not receive severance packages. Once they are cut off, there is no safety net below. That’s a huge risk they are undertaking from a financial perspective.
Help is on the way for our brothers and sisters on the road!
Food delivery, like freelance work, is a relatively new phenomenon in Singapore’s landscape, which is why frameworks that protect their rights are not yet in place — but the authorities are working on it.
In fact, during the aforementioned Parliament session, Dr Koh announced that an advisory committee on platform workers will study how to strengthen protection of those in delivery services, as well as cab and private-hire car drivers.
As we speak, the Ministry of Manpower is “studying ways to protect delivery riders and other freelancers, with an advisory committee set up to investigate and ensure a more balanced relationship between platforms and their workers”. The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), too, is looking at how it can provide greater protection for delivery workers. These could include fairer terms and conditions for delivery riders, better workplace conditions and safety, as well as medical benefits.
While these details are being ironed out, food delivery riders can rest assured that their concerns will be addressed in the near future. As for the rest of us, perhaps we can start with exercising a little more patience, understanding and appreciation for the rider delivering our next order?