NSW food delivery taskforce ignored riders safety concerns, advocates say

A taskforce set up to improve safety after five delivery riders died on the job in the space of two months has suggested only minor changes to the industry, according to a draft of its report to be released next week.

The action plan has been criticised for “caving to the demands” of delivery companies by not setting any enforceable actions, and not mentioning the impact of time pressure, wages and working conditions.

A draft version prepared last week, totalizando 28 pages written over five months, identifies between four to six changes to be made at companies such as UberEats, Hungry Panda and Door Dash, whose workers were killed on Australian roads last year.

One action listed is “improved bag ergonomics” – described by advocates for delivery riders as “an exercise in futility”.

Other actions in the draft report include “improved app design”, “app refinement”, “easy to read graphics and customisable safety messages” and “business research”.

Rider Steve Khouw accused the taskforce of ignoring many of the issues raised by workers – especially their low pay and how they were “pressured for time, all the time”.

The secretary of the Transport Workers Union, Michael Kaine, said the report only listed “inadequate” safety measures that companies had already offered to do, and did not impose any additional standards on them.

Kaine said the taskforce’s unwillingness to recommend tougher action led to their withdrawal before the final report was handed to the NSW government this week.

An FAQ to accompany the action plan said some of the proposed “controls” were amended “to be less prescriptive and more suggestive based on advice from platforms”.

"Por ejemplo, removing reference to the algorithm, removing controls related to the design of mapping technology, removing the specific requirement to lock people off the app after 12 horas," decía.

The taskforce identified four actions to be implemented by food delivery company, HungryPanda, whose worker Xiaojun Chen was killed in Sydney, and whose HR manager admitted in NSW parliament she was unaware they had a legal obligation to report that he died on the job.

They included “refinement” of the app to “improve usability and safety features”, and to conduct “business research” to “investigate the impact of extreme weather, incentives and time pressure on safety”.

The taskforce also suggested the company offer “a free mobile phone holder” and “investigate subsidised safety equipment for motorbike riders”.

For the company DoorDash – whose worker Chow Khai Shien was killed in Melbourne last year – the report lists “improved bag ergonomics”, phone cradles and high visibility gear.

Three UberEats workers died last year – all in Sydney – and the NSW draft action plan listed only one action under “safe design of work”, which was “helmet detection and bike safety checklist”.

“Rider logs online to the App each day; they will be asked to review a visual safety checklist,” the draft report stated.

Kaine said there was no mention of addressing time pressure in the action plan’s list of “actions”, despite it being cited as a leading cause of deaths and injuries only a few pages earlier in the document.

He said a section on how the companies’ algorithms forced workers to “rush” had been removed at the request of the delivery companies.

“What has been produced is nothing more than a catalogue of inadequate, piecemeal actions put forward by food delivery companies that will do nothing to tackle the dangerous conditions for riders," él dijo.

“The taskforce has proven to be an exercise in futility … The sad reality is that more lives will be lost because the NSW government has caved to the demands of tech bullies like Uber and refused to provide any enforceable actions.”

Khouw, who works for Deliveroo, said that the low wages, time pressures and the lack of rights in the gig economy were contributing to the injuries and the deaths last year.

“We are forced to rush from one point to another, constantly,” he told reporters on Thursday. “You may ask why? It’s our income stream of pay. A reasonable pay is all we are asking for.

“There is a clear link between our income stream and our health and safety … The problem with this taskforce is they are not addressing it, they are ignoring it.”

Esteban Salazar, who was injured when he slipped in rain and was struck by a light rail tram, said that time pressures contributed to his accident.

“I feel deeply disappointed,” he said of the taskforce’s draft report.

Salazar said riders “need state government intervention” or “some kind of regulation” rather than the actions listed in the report.

The NSW taskforce was announced in November last year.

The government said at the time that the taskforce would have the power to investigate the food delivery companies and “make findings for any immediate improvements or compliance activity”.

An ongoing NSW parliament inquiry into the gig economy heard that riders had their pay cut during the pandemic – down to as little as $8 for two trips.

The minister for better regulation, Kevin Anderson, told Guardian Australia that the union was “engaging in yet another stunt” instead of “working constructively with government and the industry”.

He said the taskforce had created “clear, simple guidance” and the demands made by the TWU would have “seen this crucial process bogged down in red tape and suffer delay after delay”.

“The aim of the Food Delivery Rider Safety Taskforce has been to act quickly to drive swift and effective change," él dijo.

“Improving rider safety is our number one priority and through the taskforce and industry action plan platforms have committed to 50 actions to improve the health and safety of our food delivery riders in a timely manner.

“I would urge the TWU to do the right thing and put politics aside and place the need for improved safety first. It’s not too late for the TWU to act in good faith. The door remains open – the taskforce has not withdrawn any invitations or offers to TWU to continue to contribute to the taskforce’s work.”

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