Harsh weather, ugly customers, uncertain income.
Much has been written about the challenges faced by gig economy workers like food delivery riders.
Yi Hung, a food delivery rider, tells the Pride: “You have absolute freedom but you have to deal with an unimaginable amount of garbage thrown at you; from bad weather to unreasonable customers.”
The gig economy has become a lifeline for many affected by Covid-19’s economic pressures. For example in 2020, Deliveroo reported an eighty percent increase in applications to be riders.
However, with the increase in those working in transport and food delivery comes a spike in issues affecting riders and drivers as well. Over the years, they have had to deal with the ban on PMDs on footpaths, rude customers and eateries, and tough working conditions.
Another issue is rider safety, such as the recent tragic death of a food delivery rider in Kovan.
On top of it all, food delivery riders and drivers now have to deal with the petrol price hike – part of the 2030 Singapore Green Plan.
Shock and resignation
“It definitely came as a shock to me as it was implemented with immediate effect as soon as it was announced. It would have been better to gradually increase the price over time.” Helmi, a food delivery rider tells the Pride.
When the petrol duty hike was announced as part of Budget 2021 by then-Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, prices immediately went up at the pumps.
Helmi says: “I pump Shell Fuel 98. I used to pay $2.40 per litre, and a full tank would cost me around $23. Now, it costs $2.89 per litre and a full tank would usually cost me around $28 to $29.”
“The petrol hike is an unfair attempt to make working people pay for something which they are not responsible,” Yi Hung tells The Pride.
Most of the riders that The Pride spoke with seem to have accepted this as their reality.
Helmi tells The Pride: “When I chose to work as a delivery rider, I already knew and accepted that fact that I have to put aside money for petrol and regular servicing as I travel long distances everytime I work. Personally, as much as I was shocked, I just accepted that I have to pay more for premium petrol.”
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Rallying to give workers a say
But help may be coming from an unlikely source.
SG Climate Rally, a youth-led organisation, has set up a petition speaking against the petrol hike. It also plans to livestream an open meeting tomorrow afternoon (May 1) to discuss these issues.
SG Climate Rally was set up in June 2019 to shift the discourse on climate change in Singapore and express views on how systemic inequalities affect the less privileged in Singapore.
But why would a group that pushes for climate justice be opposed to a rise in petrol prices?
The Pride spoke to SG Climate Rally’s Suraendher Kumarr, 26 and Kristian-Marc James Paul, 26, who are involved in the organisation of the petition and livestream.
Says Kumarr :“We have had conversations with riders but you didn’t need to talk to a rider to understand that this is unfair.”
“People need to understand that those with fewer resources and fewer privileges are also those who contribute the least to the climate crisis. Yet they are the ones that are affected the most,” Kristian states.
“If we are going to be thinking about solutions for the climate crisis, it is also important that we have solutions to try and solve the existing inequalities.” Kristian shares with The Pride.
That’s why the petition is asking for workers who use their vehicles for a living to be given a full rebate “until zero-emissions transport modes are affordable”, drivers and riders to have income guarantee and better legal protections, green or hybrid cars to be made affordable as well as e-bikes and infrastructure that protects both riders and pedestrians.
Explains Kristian: “People were quite surprised that we were against the petrol tax because it was framed as a way to combat climate change by disincentivising people from using these vehicles.”
Other environmental groups were surprised too by the petition.
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“There have been disagreements on the solutions”, Kristian says. “The challenge was clarifying what we mean by a just transition.
“The petrol tax is regressive: Those who earn less would see a higher proportion of their income go to paying for petrol.”
“These people often work in logistics and in the gig economy – your couriers, your drivers and your riders. People who are not earning very much, paying more for petrol and don’t have many alternatives.”
For example, the alternatives to motorcycles and cars are e-bikes and bicycles. But these solutions have limitations too. While there are plans to increase cycling paths by 1,000km by 2040, it doesn’t solve the issues facing such riders now, who often have to risk injury on roads to get to their delivery locations.
Livestream open for all to have a say
During the livestream, there will be a number of speakers talking about their experiences. Aside from former nominated MP Anthea Ong and representatives from various social media groups, there will also be migrant worker advocacy groups like MaidForMore voicing their opinions.
“We have many different groups speaking on different issues, like migrant labour,” says Kumarr.
He tells the Pride that while there are many riders who want to share their concerns, they are afraid that they would get into trouble for speaking up.
“To get around that, we set up a Google form for people to write in with their responses while protecting their identity,” Kumarr tells the Pride.
He says that the livestream is open to the public and anyone who wants to speak will be able to raise their hand and have a say. There will be moderators overseeing the meeting.
“We are trying to practice a democratic open meeting to show that we, as workers and we, as members of the public, are empowered to have our own voice.”
So far, the petition has received almost 2,100 signatures, which is close to the goal of 2,500.
Creating a community
Aside from awareness, what does SG Climate Rally want to achieve with the livestream and petition?
“We hope that more riders and workers will come so that we can build a connection with them,” says Kristian.
Additionally, SG Climate Rally has created a Telegram channel which is open to anyone who subscribes.
“Our call to action is pretty simple. Get people to subscribe to the bulletin (on Telegram), where riders and people can converse. It also has updates about the campaign and future meeting links,” Kumarr tells The Pride.
Kumarr says: “To be honest, we are not doing anything really new. We are inspired by the responses of the riders when the PMD ban was announced in 2019. The way they responded to speak up at meet-the-people sessions is a truly democratic process.”