Delivery riders’ lives are being put at risk because the government is failing to act quickly enough to safeguard their working conditions, according to the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

The union yesterday urged the NSW Coroner to proceed with inquests into the deaths of delivery riders killed in 2020 to make recommendations about protecting workers rights and improving conditions in the gig economy.

Over three months in 2020 five riders died while working on the job and two years later their families are still fighting for change.

“The time has come for governments to act. The time has come to make sure that these people that we’ve lost, that their lives are not in vain,” said TWU national secretary Michael Kaine.

“You would think that there might not be anything more tragic than losing these people, but there is something more tragic, and that is the loss of hope that things can get better.”

delivery riders

Photos of the delivery riders at yesterday’s vigil. Photo: James Fitzgerald Sice

A vigil was held yesterday afternoon outside the NSW Solicitor’s Office in Sydney to commemorate Xiaojun Chen, Dede Fredy, Bijoy Paul, Ik Wong and Burak Dogan, the delivery riders who lost their lives on the job.

In November 2020, the NSW Government established a task force that aimed to “identify the key contributing factors leading to death and serious injuries among riders and engage food delivery platforms, food outlets, unions, and advocacy groups to develop a plan to find sustainable solutions to the issues known to put riders at risk whilst they are at work”.

This led to the publication of the Working together to improve Food Delivery Rider safety industry action plan (IAP) in April 2021. However, before the IAP’s publication, the TWU pulled out of the task force because of “its sustained refusal to discuss regulation or tackle the root causes of high rider deaths and injuries” meaning there was no worker representation when the task force presented the IAP in late April 2020.

When you have no choice about the work you do… starvation wages or starvation, then people pick starvation wages.

“In the inquiry we heard government representatives saying if you enter into the contract, then you’ve accepted the contract,” said NSW Labor Senator Tony Sheldon, “when you have no choice about the work you do… starvation wages or starvation, then people pick starvation wages.”

An Uber spokesperson told Central News the company has “accelerated (their) product roadmap in support of safe delivery,” which included a range of safety initiatives such as the roll-out of personal protective equipment, in-app tech features and education modules which have been built specifically for the Australian market.

“Any fatality on our roads is one too many. The loss of Dede Fredy, Bijoy Paul and Ik Wong is devastating, and our thoughts are with their family and friends,” said the spokesperson.

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MP Tony Burke, injured rider Paolo and the TWU’s Michael Kaine. Photo: James Fitzgerald Sice.

Central News contacted Menulog and Deliveroo for a comment but they did not respond.

At Tuesday’s vigil, the TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said the IAP “said what we all knew… what we need are governments who will lift the pressures, governments who will say ‘this work is unsafe’.”

In 2021 the NSW Coroner’s Court confirmed it would inquire into the deaths of four of the five delivery riders – Xiaojun Chen, Dede Fredy, Bijoy Paul, Ik Wong.

But the TWU is pushing for the coroner’s inquest to include Burak Dogan whose death “was not reported as a workplace death by Uber Eats which claimed he wasn’t working at the time”.

Michael Kaine stated these investigations ‘were long overdue’ and a “NSW coronial inquest would shine a spotlight on the deadly pressures on food delivery riders”.

“We owe it to those who’ve lost their lives, we owe it to their friends, we owe it to their families, that when we are here in 12 month’s times, we are here with more rights for workers, not more photographs of the people we’ve lost,” said federal Labor MP Tony Burke, speaking at Tuesday’s vigil.

Main image, top, of rally by James Fitzgerald Sice