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Hungry Panda was unaware it had to report death of delivery rider, inquiry hears | Gig economy

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A manager at food delivery company Hungry Panda has told a parliamentary inquiry she did not know they had a legal obligation to report the death of one of their riders to the New South Wales workplace regulator.

Rider Xiaojun Chen, a 43-year-old father of two, was hit and killed by a bus last year while delivering food in Sydney. He was one of five delivery riders, working for gig economy companies like UberEats and Door Dash, who died in the space of two months across Australia.

Chen worked for Hungry Panda, which is an international food delivery company, founded in the UK in 2016, that targets the Chinese expatriate market in six countries.

Riders for Hungry Panda are classed as independent contractors, not employees, meaning they are not entitled to award wages, sick leave and other protections.

Tina Sun, the company’s Australian HR manager, appeared before a NSW parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday looking into the deaths of delivery drivers. She said she could not remember how many days it took for Hungry Panda to report Chen’s death to SafeWork NSW.

Hungry Panda had initially been scheduled to appear before the inquiry in November last year, but the company failed to turn up, with no notice. Their delivery manager, Luna Wei, later apologised, saying that some “riders came to the company without an appointment to discuss some delivery problems”, causing her to miss the inquiry.

On Tuesday, Sun said the company found out about Chen’s death “when the accident happened”, but did not report it to SafeWork NSW immediately as required by law.

Previously, SafeWork NSW had told the inquiry the Transport Workers Union had been the first organisation to report Chen’s death, after the union found out a week after the collision.

“We did report later because when the accident happened, I myself went to the hospital,” Sun said. “I have to say we were not quite familiar with the process. But we did pay very high attention to that accident.”

The chair of the committee, Labor MP Daniel Mookhey, asked Sun: “Were you aware you had a legal obligation to report as soon possible?”

“No,” Sun said.

Mookhey asked Sun whether anyone at Hungry Panda knew their obligations at the time.

“We have all the health and safety work notification processes, we were not familiar with that,” Sun said. “But after that, we have worked closely with SafeWork and we have improved the procedure and are quite familiar with this process now.”

Sun also disputed whether the union reported the death to SafeWork NSW. “I don’t think the union reported to SafeWork one week after the accident,” she said.

The deputy chair, Mark Banasiak said that Hungry Panda had expanded into six different countries, and asked whether the company had failed to “do its due diligence” to learn about the reporting requirements.

Chen’s widow, Lihong Wei, had previously told Guardian Australia that Chen’s death would leave her and their two children financially destitute, because they also had to look after both Chen and Wei’s elderly parents, who have acquired disabilities.

On Tuesday, Sun said the company was “still under discussion” whether it would pay any further compensation to Chen’s widow.

She said that Wei had received $20,000 from CTP insurance from the bus driver who hit Chen.

“We see that as compensation,” she said.

She added: “After that accident we have given a lot of support to his family … we helped them apply for the visa and to pay for all the expenses including the return flights and also the funeral costs and also the accommodation.”

Sun said the company was still discussing with Wei’s lawyer whether they would pay his family any further compensation.

Earlier in the inquiry, two riders testified that Hungry Panda had cut pay rates for its riders – from approximately $7.50 per delivery to $3 per delivery.

Sun said that these figures were not accurate, and that pay rates varied and depended on the distance travelled.

“The pay change in February was only for the Waterloo and Zetland area,” she said.

Sun also told the inquiry that Hungry Panda had “around 100 to 150” workers in Sydney at any one time, and that their business model was “very similar with UberEats or Deliveroo or other delivery companies”.

Hungry Panda was established in the UK in 2016, and came to Australia in 2019, Sun said, where it targets “a niche market dedicated to Chinese and Mandarin speakers”.

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Why faster payments are critical to the gig economy

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More people are joining the gig economy, and a major driver of this trend — particularly for those working multiple gigs — is a need for faster access to cash to meet expenses.

The gig economy has proven flexible during the pandemic. When ride sharing cooled as fewer consumers traveled, food delivery services exploded. As Airbnb vacation rentals dropped, they were replaced by Airbnb home rentals as newly sequestered workers decided remote work could allow them to trade apartments in New York and Chicago for beach and mountain homes in Florida and Colorado.



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European Commission to consult over future of gig economy

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Photo: Shutterstock

The European Commission on Wednesday began its consultation on the rights of gig economy workers whose labour is governed by digital platforms.

The commission’s process is made up of two parts: the first, which will last six weeks, will see businesses, workers and unions consulted on “the need and direction of possible EU action to improve the working conditions in platform work”; the second, to take place later in the spring, will see concrete proposals formulated and legislation introduced if no agreement is reached in the first stage.

Among the key issues to be addressed, in addition to employment status, will be algorithmic management, collective representation and access to social protections with the EU officials aware that, according to jobs commissioner Nicolas Schmit, “there is not white and black or there is not just one-size-fits-all. There is a big variety in the world of platforms.”

First soundings suggest the commission wants to preserve platorm-based gig economy work. Margrethe Vestager, competition commissioner and chair of the Europe Fit for the Digital Age group, said: “The platform economy is here to stay– new technologies, new sources of knowledge, new forms of work will shape the world in the years ahead.”

However: “And for all of our work on the digital economy, these new opportunities must not come with different rights. Online just as offline, all people should be protected and allowed to work safely and with dignity.”

She identified the most crucial issue was “to find a balance between making the most of the opportunities of the platform economy and ensuring that the social rights of people working in it are the same as in the traditional economy” adding there was “also a matter of a fair competition and level playing field between platforms and traditional companies that have higher labour costs because they are subject to traditional labour laws.”

She said she was not looking at creating a new category of worker: “In my experience, discussions become extremely complex when you want to create a new category. We’re not in any process to create a third category. But we think that here in the consultation, it’s important that we get the feedback on exactly this.”

Uber said it welcomed the consultation: “We welcome the steps taken by the European Commission to improve the conditions of platform work,” said a spokesperson. “Any legislative initiative should be grounded in what platform workers value most – flexibility and control over their work, transparent and fair earnings, access to benefits and protections, and meaningful representation.”

Last week’s judgment in the UK Supreme Court, which ruled Uber drivers were workers because, said the judge, the relationship between it and its drivers was one of “subordination and dependency”, could lead to changes in the UK that will inform the commission’s discussion.

However, centre and left-wing political groupings in Europe are campaigning on the basis that platform workers should be employees. Alongside trade unions such as the European Transport Workers’ Federation – a participant in the consultation – they believe the onus should be on the platforms to prove that their “contractors” aren’t employees, rather than the other way round.

“To change the game of the gig economy, in principle all platform workers must be considered as employees,” said Dutch MEP Agnes Jongerius, a European parliament spokesperson for the employment and social affairs committee. Another member of the committee, French MEP Sylvie Brunet, published a draft report on the rights of platform workers this week, which called on the EU to draw up legislation to “counter bogus self-employment”.

Groups representing companies’ interests such as BusinessEurope do not wish to see an EU-wide definition of employee, which they say should be defined on a national level. Unless an agreement is reached at stage one of the European Commission’s consultation, it is likely that digital platform workers on the Continent will be subject to a patchwork of national case law for at least a year to come, because it is thought coming up with legislation will be a long drawn-out process.

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How the Gig Economy Helps American Workers, Explained

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Sure, you know that being an Uber driver is great for someone who wants to make their own hours. But did you know that many Americans are choosing freelance work because they need flexibility because of family or other responsibilities?

Did you know that small businesses rely on independent contractors? Or that Americans who were once discouraged because they couldn’t make a job work with their lifestyle are now able to work?

But unfortunately, the gig economy is under attack by leftists. In California, a new law has made many such flexible jobs illegal.

In this “Policy Lab” episode, posted above, we have the facts on the gig economy. Check it out—and if you’re interested in watching more “Policy Lab” episodes, you can view them here.



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