He said riders are required to purchase their own personal protective equipment (PPE), which they are later reimbursed for, but he believes it would be more beneficial for everyone if it were provided upfront.
“We’re really expecting these companies to send PPE directly to us without us having to claim or pay anything upfront,” he said.
He told Inside Retail that many gig workers want their employers to lobby the government to be counted as frontline staff, with priority access to the vaccine and PPE supplied.
Deliveroo said it has done all it can to support riders since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 and regularly consults with riders through various forums such as the Health and Safety Committee, the Rider Safety Advisory Panel and engages directly with Health and Safety Representatives on important safety topics such as managing deliveries through Covid and PPE.
“We distributed free hand sanitiser and masks, established contact-free pick-up and delivery, and installed hand sanitiser in restaurant hot spots,” Deliveroo told Inside Retail.
“As the pandemic continued and short lockdowns became the norm, we put in place a reimbursement scheme for riders so they could claim the cost of purchasing masks and hand sanitiser. Given the speed at which some lockdowns have been mandated – and lifted – this is the most efficient way to ensure riders are protected and compensated.”
Pressures of the job
Despite having faced pressure at work in his career prior to taking this role, Bill* also feels “severely under the pump” on deliveries.
“It’s quite intense. They make it out to be this flexible system of work where you are your own boss, but the truth is every movement you make is monitored because of the location services through the app,” he claims.
Bill* believes that the app’s algorithm monitors average delivery time and any anomalies along the way and determines who gets future deliveries.
“With that uncertainty and because of the ever-declining wages in the industry, you can feel the pressure to take more risks. Even as a sensible guy with two degrees, I’ve been tempted to obviate road rules if it means quicker deliveries, better job security and higher earnings.”
As Deliveroo riders are independent contractors, a spokesperson said the company “does not check on a rider’s progress during a delivery, nor issue instructions”.
“Riders can choose the route they take and can even choose not to deliver an order once they are en route, without consequence,” a spokesperson said.
Dan*, a driver for delivery company Sherpa, told Inside Retail that while he’s grateful to have a job during uncertain times, he gets overwhelmed by the pressure to deliver as quickly as possible.
“They tend to bombard us with a lot of [notifications] through the app,” he claims.
“Drivers are under pressure, rushing around on the road … that’s when mistakes happen and the service is sacrificed.”
He described the driver community as “dog-eat-dog”.
“If they paid rates a bit higher, there wouldn’t be such a competitive environment,” he said.
Launched in 2014, Sherpa caters to last-mile delivery needs of retailers including Woolworths, BWS, Dan Murphy’s, Apple and Chemist Warehouse. It also caters to the same-day delivery needs of the general public and small and medium businesses.
Its drivers, or Sherpas as they call them, deliver essential services including fresh food and groceries, prescription medication and general retail that cannot currently be accessed in-store due to government-enforced lockdowns.
Sherpa said it charges its retail customers for delivery of goods, and passes on “the overwhelming majority” of that delivery charge to drivers, keeping the remainder as revenue. Sherpa denies checking in on drivers.
“We do not ‘check in’ on drivers at all. All our Sherpas are independent contractors and they work for themselves; they decide when to work and how many jobs to do,” Sherpa CEO Duncan Brett told Inside Retail.
While Sherpa’s latest NPS scores show that many drivers are happy working with the company, Dan* has highlighted some issues, claiming that the pay is not enough to manage basic living expenses.
“You have to pay for your phone, petrol, car rego, insurances, trolleys, sanitiser, service, tyres … They expect all these things from you and there’s very little in return in terms of monetary [compensation] and support from the company.”
“I don’t know how they treat thousands and thousands of people as ABN numbers and not employees.”
He said it’s a “lonely job” and that mental support for drivers would be welcomed.
Deliveroo rider Bill* mainly works during busy periods. He says riders can earn good money (10-20 per cent more than normal), during the narrow timeframe of 5:30-7:30pm.
“You can make good money during those times – granted that you’re running around like a blue-arsed fly. But if you’re doing it on a more frequent basis and you have to work lunchtime during the middle of the week, you’re going to be scraping $10 an hour,” he said.
“How can these companies continue paying us an absolute pittance when clearly the demand is there and it might actually be in their interest to incentivise getting more riders on the road to make sure customers are getting their pandemic demands met?”
Union calls for change
A rider poll conducted by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) earlier this year found 85 per cent of riders relied on gig work as their sole source of income, and a poll of 209 riders last year found the average hourly income for gig delivery riders was $10.42.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said that because of low pay, riders are taking risks to make as many deliveries in as short a timeframe as possible.
“Gig economy workers are dying doing their jobs. There’s systemic underpayment, insufficient PPE and many report serious injuries while working,” Kaine told Inside Retail.
“These platforms defend their exploitation by claiming it promotes flexibility, but nothing is further from the truth. These behemoths dictate how and when the work is done, and how much delivery riders are paid. Workers are dying in the pursuit of profits.”
There’s been eight food delivery rider deaths in three years, according to the TWU. And last year’s rider survey found 65 per cent of gig workers have either been injured on the job, or know someone who has been injured.
Kaine believes the gig economy needs federal government regulation and a tribunal to allow workers to fight for and enforce minimum rights and standards.
On the frontline?
At the start of the pandemic last year, Sherpa introduced contactless delivery. For those deliveries requiring an ID check, recipients are asked to hold their ID where visible for the driver to acknowledge.
“We discourage any unnecessary contact between recipients and drivers,” Brett said.
“In addition to this, we have introduced a daily checklist within the driver app. This asks drivers to confirm if they are ok to handle heavy items or if they have specific safety equipment such as: face mask, high vis vest or handling and lifting aids (such as trolleys).”
While Sherpa says health and safety is a priority, CEO Duncan Brett says delivery drivers are not frontline workers.
“Sherpas are not frontline workers; they are essential workers – this is a significant difference,” Brett told Inside Retail.
“Frontline workers are doctors, nurses, police and teachers and their supporting roles. Essential workers are [in] education, healthcare, manufacturing, retail trade and many others including transport where Sherpa sits.”
*Names have been changed to ensure anonymity