Political will required to fix social protection for food delivery drivers — Charles Santiago

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JANUARY 8 — The recent death of the Grab food rider still haunts me. 

He was only 31 and according to news reports, the breadwinner for his family. 

It is also a wake-up call on the vulnerable nature of precarious or informal work.

Last year, about 30 delivery riders died while working. Another 150 met with accidents during the months of March and June. 

Not all were pot-hole related but one-third of these cases involve serious injuries, while 73 reported minor injuries.

Food delivery services gained prominence during the Covid-19 crisis. Young men and women on motor-cycles delivered food and other house hold products to the door steps of our home. They are front-liners of sorts.

They work under vulnerable conditions and suffer from a lack of comprehensive social protection mechanism while at work.

These delivery riders risk their lives and limbs, attempting to beat deadlines so that they could earn more commissions with a higher rate of pick-ups and deliveries.

About 40 per cent of the labour force in Malaysia or 5.9 million people work in the informal sectors including the gig economy and the number is growing.

But how much do employers care? 

These gig workers are not covered by the existing employment-related social protection system.

There are approximately 160,000 e-hailing drivers in Malaysia.

A 2020 survey conducted by a research group, The Centre, involving more than 400 e-hailing and delivery drivers, found that nearly a quarter (22%) of them do not have any form of social safety net, be it life and health insurance, emergency savings, insurance against social setbacks or retirement savings.

Presently, Grab Malaysia does offer EPF contributions of 5 per cent on the amount contributed by selected driver-partners, subject to a maximum of RM80 a year.

Also, EPF and Socso allow gig workers to contribute voluntarily under their Voluntary Contribution with Retirement Incentive and Self-Employment Social Security Scheme respectively.

These efforts are welcomed but should be perceived as initial steps in building a long term and sustainable social protection system for informal workers including e-hailing delivery riders.

First, the government needs to recognise the status of informal workers and make it mandatory for their employers to give them adequate social protection coverage. 

Crucial issues such as a minimum wage, insurance coverage, EPF deductions and Socso coverage must be made compulsory. 

The government must also include them as part of the national social protection system.

In this way, informal workers can access the Employment Insurance Scheme, accident and health insurances and retirement savings.

Second, informal workers can be registered with the government through an app.  

Third, the state needs to work with existing employers to establish a sustainable social protection system that can effectively cushion these vulnerable workers during a crisis.                  

Singapore has successfully established social protection for e-hailing drivers.

Gojek has partnered with Gigacover, a Singapore-based insurance technology company, to launch an earnings protection insurance scheme for its delivery drivers.

These delivery drivers can enjoy earnings protection coverage of S$80 (RM244) per day and will be covered for up to 21 days of medical leave and 84 days of hospitalisation leave, including accident claims.

So Malaysia must do more for gig workers and so should their employers. 

Both must recognise that informal workers were the hardest hit during the crisis and continue to be left behind in terms of state support.

*Charles Santiago is Member of Parliament Klang

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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