Delivery riders–Our lifeline to normalcy

A common sight in our streets nowadays is the proliferation of delivery riders that very well could describe the kind of closeted world we now live in. With Covid-19 now on its second wind, these delivery riders bring to our homes the needed connection to the outside world, from our favorite dish from the restaurant we used to dine in, to items we bought from the many online stores currently operating. And thanks as well to this development, the delivery business has provided valuable employment to quite a lot of Filipinos in these hard times when most of their old jobs are gone or on hold. Yet the delivery business is in its infancy stage, with much of its foundation still being formed.

Problems abound here and there, from ensuring the rights of their online consumers as well as protecting the many riders on the road. With its growing impact on our lives and our economy, it is imperative that the government should tackle the sustainability of this industry and provide the needed protection that the riders so deserve.

There are no accurate numbers yet as to how many of the riders see this as a permanent livelihood, although the estimates would run close to over a million.  Even in 2019, just before the pandemic, one of the many food apps then existing already had 45,000 riders registered, which, I am sure, increased exponentially these recent months. One simple reason is the fact that these riders are not treated as employees, but rather as contract workers. Therefore, these riders do not enjoy the benefits that they should get as regular workers of the food delivery apps that, for all intents and purposes, employ them—no assurances of income, no accident insurance, no social security, and no protection from termination. These workers even need to pay, in some cases, for their uniforms. The worse part is that these riders are subject to abuses. Stories abound of fake or cancelled orders. And the riders, unfortunately, will shoulder the amount involved. There are also minor and major vehicular accidents, and of course the constant threat of getting sick and infected by the virus simply because of their constant exposure during this pandemic. Still, their numbers continue to grow, driven by the potential income they can make. A typical month for these riders would net them anywhere from P15,000 to P30,000, something that is getting to be rare in this economy.

It is good that some lawmakers are taking notice of their plight. Three separate resolutions—one from the Senate and two from the House—are calling for an investigation on this industry. All three resolutions, SR number 732, HOR numbers 1973 and 1974, question their status as independent contractors instead of employees who are entitled to rights, benefits and social protection under the Labor Code. In addition, several lawmakers urged the executive department to look with urgency on their plight, highlighting that  these riders should be protected under the provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, as well as ILO Conventions 87 and 98, both ratified by the Philippines. A bill was filed in the House, HB number 9279, calling for mandatory statutory benefits for these riders, but it is doubtful we will see its fruition given the limited time left for Congress to act on the measure. Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment is still determining whether the riders are employees or independent contractors.

Globally, several countries have already acted in classifying these riders as employees of digital platforms, including Spain, which made such recognition via their Supreme Court. The United Kingdom also reclassified these workers, such that they are at least entitled to a minimum wage, vacation pay, and other benefits.

Let’s face it, we know the pandemic won’t be fading soon. Relying on these riders will be the norm rather than the novelty it used to be. Government need not wait for legislation to protect our vital outside lifeline while we are cooped up in our homes. There are several measures that are already accorded to contracted workers that can be immediately utilized for these delivery riders. Imagine life without these riders. It’s difficult to even think about that in the time of Covid. This should push us to pressure government to examine their plight as soon as possible.

The author maybe reached via: thomas_orbos@sloan.mit.edu

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