The family of a delivery rider who died on the job is calling for a gig economy overhaul

The family of delivery rider Chow Khai Shien is still struggling to comprehend how he died alone, in a foreign country away from his family.

Chow Khai Shien

Chow Khai Shien was killed in Melbourne last month while making a food delivery. Source: Supplied

It took more than three weeks before the family of Chow Khai Shien were finally able to lay him to rest in Malaysia. 

"My mom just cannot accept that he passed away in a foreign country, that he passed away alone," his sister Kai Sing Chow told SBS News from Singapore. 

"We have not seen him for a year because of the pandemic, he had plans to return home to Malaysia next January." 

Mr Chow, 36, died in late October after a crash in Melbourne's CBD while he was delivering food on a motor scooter. 

He is one of five delivery riders who have died on the job in Australia in the past two months. The Transport Workers' Union has described the spate of deaths as a "crisis of national importance".  

Hampered by COVID-19 travel restrictions, Mr Chow's family held a virtual funeral in Melbourne, organised by his lone relative in the country, a cousin.  His ashes were then sent to Malaysia. 

Mr Chow had dreams of owning a restaurant with his family and working as a chef.

He was already working as a chef at a Melbourne restaurant but lost his job when the pandemic hit and lockdown restrictions came into effect.   

"He needed to earn money, to get by. I remember asking him, are you sure you want to work as a delivery rider, I worried about his safety on the roads, but he told me it was safe.

"And now we have seen, that he has passed away just because of a few dollars of delivery. It makes my heart break." 

Chow Khai Shien (left) with his family.
Source: Supplied.

In Australia, most gig economy workers are classified as independent contractors, not employees.  

Independent contractors are not entitled to benefits such as minimum wages, superannuation, and workers compensation.  While some delivery companies do offer a level of cover, there is no legal requirement for businesses to do so. 

Jim Stanford, economist and director of the Centre for Future Work, said the characterisation of delivery riders as independent contractors was a "technological loophole". 

"By hiring and firing people through an application, these digital businesses try to pretend these workers are not workers, that they are independent contractors, that is a technological fiction.

"In practical terms, that's ridiculous.  These workers are clearly working for these digital platforms, performing relatively menial and often dangerous tasks for low pay. 

"I don't think this loophole should mean that these workers are deprived of the rights that any other worker in the economy would have." 

Mr Chow (left) had dreams of owning a restaurant with his family and working as a chef.
Source: Supplied.

Since September, five delivery workers have died on Australian roads. Four of the deaths were in Sydney. 

The NSW state government recently set up a task force to investigate the deaths.

It will be led by SafeWork New South Wales and Transport for New South Wales and will examine whether any avoidable risks may have contributed to the deaths and whether there are improvements that need to be made to enhance safety.

Calls for more rights and protections 

Chow Kai Sing - Mr Chow's sister - said she is speaking out because she hopes her brother's death can spur changes that prevent similar fatalities in the future. 

She hopes that government regulation will mandate for all delivery companies to have personal accident insurance and to have more safety protocols for the protection of riders. 

"Many of these riders are the most vulnerable, they are on the lowest income and they are putting themselves out, exposing themselves during the COVID pandemic. 

"I know that many of them rush from order to order to make deadlines that are set out by the delivery companies, and they are dying in this line of work." 

The Transport Workers Union has been advocating for the federal government to set up a tribunal to deal with the gig economy. 

"It needs to set up a tribunal that can then put in place appropriate protections for these workers and put in place obligations on these companies so they can't run around like it is the Wild West." 

Transport Workers' Union calls for an investigation after another delivery driver killed on the job

Federal Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said the issue was largely a state and territory one, but committed to bringing it up at the next meeting of work health and safety ministries.

"Every worker, no matter how their employment arrangements are structured, has the right to a safe working environment and to come home to their families at the end of each day," he said in a statement.

DoorDash, the company which Chow Khai Shien was working for, told SBS News in a statement that health and safety is its priority and that it has signed an agreement with the Transport Workers' Union earlier this year to provide a broad range of protections for its drivers. 

Published 26 November 2020 at 12:42pm, updated 26 November 2020 at 12:47pm
By Lin Evlin