Youth minister moots new law for gig economy workers after Foodpanda riders strike

An estimated 100 Foodpanda riders attend an open dialogue with Youth and Sport Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman at his residence in Petaling Jaya October 1,2019. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
An estimated 100 Foodpanda riders attend an open dialogue with Youth and Sport Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman at his residence in Petaling Jaya October 1,2019. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

PETALING JAYA, Oct 2 — A new law is needed to regulate the gig economy and provide better worker protection in the long-run, according to Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman.

The youth and sports minister came up with the idea last night after a near two-hour talk with some 100 food delivery riders from two major companies, Foodpanda and Grabfood, who highlighted their problems as freelance workers in a gig economy.

“Rightfully, there must be a law to protect gig economy workers who are now labelled as freelancers,” he told reporters after the late-night discussion at his home here.

He promised to raise it at the Cabinet meeting today.

He said a new law must be enacted as a long-term solution, after listening to the grouses raised by the workers as well as representatives from Foodpanda’s management earlier in the day.

The minister noted that recent policy changes by Foodpanda — one of two giant food delivery services nationwide with 12,000 riders — that aimed to provide more flexibility to workers was negatively received by the riders who saw the revision as cutting their potential earnings by as much as half.

The disgruntlement has led some riders in certain states, including Negri Sembilan, Johor, Melaka and Sabah, to plan a protest strike three days a week.

“I feel after listening to both sides, it is clear that the decision was made in a hurry,” Syed Saddiq said, expressing sympathies with the riders.

He said the complaints raised by the riders revealed a deeper problem within the gig economy of the lack of safeguards for worker welfare.

“While we want to ensure that this gig economy grows, and for companies to be able to make hundreds of millions in revenue and profit, we cannot at any time, forget the workers, who in the end earn the company a handsome revenue,” Syed Saddiq said.

He said a new law for the gig economy should also prevent a monopoly in addition to proper care for the freelance workers.

Earlier during the no-holds-barred discussion, riders from as far away as Penang and Johor gave accounts of their alleged unfair treatment by Foodpanda, claiming that a new schedule issued by the company reduced their weekly wages by almost RM300.

Mohamad Faiz Mohd Padzil, a Foodpanda rider from Negri Sembilan, said that gig economy workers are not covered by company insurance nor do they have financial safety nets such as the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) or Social Security Organisation (Socso) while maintenance, the food delivery bags and even the company’s corporate shirts are borne personally by the riders.

He elaborated that Foodpanda’s new schedule, made without consulting riders, tied them to a 14-hour work day without proper wages.

“If we do not get any orders say in a week, all that trouble is wasted,” he said, adding that the company only cared if the riders carried out their food deliveries, even when the person was involved in a road accident.

Norhisyam Ja’afar from Penang said there were about 500 Foodpanda riders in the state now, up from 120.

The rider for a year said the influx of riders meant more competition and fewer work schedules, resulting in less income and discontent as many had entered the industry as full-time work now.

Norhisyam also claimed that Foodpanda issued a warning letter threatening to cut off Penang riders who were found to have participated in any strike from September 30, prior to the Sunday strike by their peers in Kuala Lumpur.

Another rider who gave his name only as Mohd Zarkashi said there are 200 Foodpanda riders in Shah Alam, but claimed the work schedule was sufficient for only 50 riders, and wondered how the remaining 150 would be able to do their jobs.

“What I want to highlight here is that Foodpanda has to add more shifts for its riders. There are always additional riders being hired,” he said.

Grabfood riders Mohd Asror Mohd Azmal and Mohd Amer Rezwan said the conditions they faced at the rival company were similar to Foodpanda riders, and related that they would be penalised with a suspension or a ban if they cancelled too many deliveries.

Amer said he had been just issued a suspension by Grabfood when he cancelled an order because the location was in Kuala Lumpur, out of his area in Petaling Jaya, even though he had informed the customer service representative prior and was told he could just terminate the order without repercussions.

“In my case, I am based in Petaling Jaya, but I received an order in Mid Valley. So I called up the customer service, and this was because it was raining and I asked them how would I be able to ferry the order as it was far.

“They told me, it’s OK. Try cancelling and to state my reason. After the cancellation, I got a message today saying that I was banned because of the cancelled order,” Amer related.

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