Statement issued on 16 November 2019
We, a group of 127 prospective, current and graduated university students in Singapore, express our solidarity with the food delivery workers (hereafter deliverers) in light of the recent ban of Personal Mobility Devices (PMDs) on November 5. We recognise that the ban was instituted as a response to serious accidents involving PMDs, and we express our condolences to all the victims of such accidents.
Nevertheless, we would also like to express our sympathy to the deliverers with regard to the effects of the ban on their livelihood, our gratitude and appreciation as beneficiaries of their service, as well as our support for the organization and expression of their grievances to policymakers.
Through this statement, we also hope that the concerns and livelihood of the deliverers can be well-consulted and considered in policy-making, and that members of the public can empathise with, and provide moral support to, the deliverers affected in this period.
On November 4th, 2019, Senior Minister of State for Transport Dr Lam Pin Min announced in Parliament that PMDs, including e-scooters, will be banned on all footpaths except Park Connector Network (PCN) and cycling paths starting from November 5th. According to Senior Minister Lam, the ban was the last option to tackle the safety concerns surrounding the irresponsible use of PMDs on footpaths, which has led to both fatal and non-fatal injuries of pedestrians.
One implication of the PMD ban is the effect on food delivery services and the deliverers. Many deliverers from food delivery companies such as Grab, Foodpanda or Deliveroo use PMDs as a more efficient mode of transport to deliver food to customers. With the ban in place, deliverers have to take longer routes to deliver food, sometimes having to walk long distances where no cycling path or PCN is available.
As some deliverers have noted, alternative modes of transport like bicycles or e-bikes are also too physically taxing for deliverers with physical impediments and are more cumbersome to use and hence less suitable for delivering food. As such, deliverers have lost an important means to do their jobs. Many who have spent thousands of dollars to purchase the PMDs – with some even spending extra to enhance the safety features of their PMDs – saw their investment as being at risk due to the ban. Many do not have the means to change to other more expensive modes of transport, such as motorcycles.
In addition, during the week following the ban, many deliverers were harassed by members of the public, both in person as well as on social media. For instance, one deliverer was pushed off his bike while cycling on the PCN in Yishun, suffering from a neck fracture. The deliverer, together with his wife, was reported to have “switched jobs to become food delivery personnel to raise their two children, aged four and six.” Another deliverer, according to Mothership.sg, recounted that a pedestrian threatened to assault him while he was riding on the cycling path. In another instance, one woman who had ordered food delivery took a photo of the deliverer and posted it on Facebook, suggested that she would report him for using PMD on a footpath.
Given such ordeals, many PMD deliverers have organized and expressed their grievances and demands in Meet-the-People sessions (MPS) as well as closed-door meetings with policymakers around the country. The government introduced a trade-in program today, in conjunction with food delivery companies, to help the PMD deliverers recoup their investment, as well as provide grants to deliverers to trade-in their PMDs for bicycles. Based on the online response, it appears that these measures have been met with mixed opinions from the deliverers, some of whom believe that it does not mitigate the long-term cut in their incomes.
As students, many of whom live on campus, we express our gratitude for the deliverers as well as our sympathy for the difficulties they are currently facing. The deliverers we encounter are decent, honest and hard-working people who work hard to fulfil our orders, rain or shine. Despite playing an important role in the food and beverage industry today, these food deliverers experience precarious working conditions due to their status as gig employees rather than traditional employees. This means that they have irregular incomes that is heavily dependent on their daily effort. Additionally, these deliverers lack protection, formal workers’ associations and representation despite the dangerous traffic-facing nature of their job. With the PMD ban in place, the working conditions of the deliverers have become even more precarious. As many deliverers are of the lower-socioeconomic demographic, such a decision has had a disproportionate impact on their livelihood. Losing PMDs as their modes of transport means that deliverers see their income drastically reduced due to lower volume of orders that they can handle.
In one particular emotional story that was circulated online, one PMD deliverer, M Siva, saw his livelihood affected by the ban:
“With my $3,500 salary, I thought it was good time to start family, I can provide for my baby. Combine with my wife $2000 salary, we buy $250,000 BTO in [Choa Chu Kang].
Now my income suddenly become zero, if I go back old job, it drop by $1,300 every month, I have baby that need diaper, need milk powder, need infant care, now my expense is more than my income.
I do everything you ask me to, but you still ban me from doing my job, a good job that pay me well. Now my children childcare fee how? Now their daily expense how? Overnight my salary cut by 30%, how can I be a good father to raise my children responsibly?”
While we understand the safety concerns that led to the ban, we believe that such implementation did not take into consideration the livelihood of the deliverers whose job depends on the use of PMDs. Particularly, we wonder if the deliverers and food delivery companies had been consulted before the decision was made.
We welcome the trade-in and grant program that the government has introduced to support the workers. We urge the government to continue engaging with the deliverers as well as other concerned parties surrounding the PMD ban to better understand their concerns and demands, and make appropriate revisions to the policy. We hope that the government can take in suggestions from the deliverers such as implementing a mandatory licensing regime for PMD deliverers, an extended probation period for the ban, and also look at improving the road infrastructure to better accommodate these riders in the long-term.
In addition, we are appalled by the negative public responses towards the PMD deliverers. We strongly oppose the acts of vigilantism – be it physical, verbal or online – threaten the safety and livelihoods of the deliverers. We urge the members of the public to empathize with the ordeal of the deliverers. Particularly, many have expressed frustration at PMD deliverers for not willing to accept the government’s offers to switch jobs and upskill themselves. While we understand that such recommendations are well-intentioned, we urge the public to consider the difficulties for the deliverers to do so due to their socio-economic conditions and lack of flexibility that many of them face. Not everyone has the opportunity to switch jobs easily or upskill themselves, and many, especially single parents, value the flexibility given to them by food delivery jobs.
Furthermore, we urge the food delivery companies, including but not limited to Grab, Foodpanda and Deliveroo, to take serious steps in providing these workers support and protection during this precarious period. In particular, we urge them to consider increasing their delivery commissions to offset the decreased incomes of the deliverers due to their switch to slower modes of transport to adhere to the ban. This would also incentivise errant riders to not engage in unsafe behaviour to compensate for a potential loss in earnings.
Lastly, we would like to express our solidarity and support for the deliverers’ peaceful organization and collective expression of grievances towards the Members of Parliament (MPs) at the various MPS and closed-door meetings across the country. Their acts of organization and expression illustrate an admirable spirit in defending their rights to livelihood collectively and demanding their voices to be heard, despite having no prior formal association or organization from either the state or the companies to do so on their behalf.