Food delivery people are the chimney sweeps of the 21st century

The deaths and injuries of cyclists delivering food on our roads will not stop until we recognize the relationship between working conditions and safety. Focusing only on safety issues (by making them wear high visibility vests for example) will not solve the problem that has led to the death of five cyclists in the last two months. They need better pay rates and job security.

Treat food delivery cyclists like employees, not like 21st century chimney sweeps.
Credit:Cole Bennetts

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Meal delivery people are the chimney sweeps of the 21st century. They do dangerous work for little reward, and our labor laws ignore them. Their work is dangerous precisely because it is unregulated. The lack of minimum wage rates means that cyclists have an incentive to take risks to earn a decent income.

An unhappy customer who posts a petty note because the pizza wasn’t hot could lose their job. Many workers who have attempted to challenge wrongful termination on these grounds have failed because they do not meet the definition of “employee” in our fair labor laws. They do not benefit from any of the rights enjoyed by their salaried clients. Is it any wonder that they neglect their own safety, faced with the risk of losing their livelihood?

I have enormous sympathy for the position of Michael Koziol, who writes in The Sydney Morning Herald on the moral dilemma posed by food ordering apps, but a boycott of these services will only punish workers and make their conditions worse, as they will all be competing for fewer jobs. They need work.

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Instead, we should lobby governments, federal and state, to provide them with a safety net of basic working conditions. Explicitly including them in the federal fair labor system and awarding an award covering their work would be a solution.

Another state solution would be to amend Chapter 6 of the Industrial Relations Act 1996 (NSW) to include food delivery cyclists among transport workers who may be covered by a “contractual determination” of minimum wage rates and basic working conditions. Currently, this law excludes food delivery services because when it was enacted, the only people doing this work were Meals on Wheels workers or restaurant workers. Bread and milk vendors were considered employees. (Remember those days?) Today’s app-enabled food delivery service engages the very kind of contract carriers that Chapter 6 was supposed to cover.

Workers’ compensation legislation should consider delivery riders as workers and platform companies as their employers. Companies would then be forced to pay workers’ compensation premiums and have an incentive to ensure safer work systems. But safety training for cyclists will never be enough as their work is poorly paid and precarious.

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