They zoom the streets on their motorcycle with carrier bags of a multitude of colours. Some traffic-users grunt at their presence on the road calling them a menace for their reckless behaviour on the road, some rely on them, especially on busy days. Some begrudged the high pay they received through this lucrative job.
Currently, there are 70,000 food delivery riders or p-hailing drivers in Malaysia. Some rely fully on delivery gigs as household income, some do it as a side-gig. The common thread is the same, the job dubbed as “informal” or part of the “gig economy” has taken over Malaysia – a growing trend even among the next generation.
Food delivery service is a breakthrough in the service sector – bringing meals easier, faster and more convenient to the masses. While most of us love it, there is a hidden cost and risk that delivery riders take on that is commonly overlooked.
Between 2018 and 2021, there were 1,242 accidents involving food delivery riders and 112 ended in deaths. Up until 2021, food delivery riders were risking their lives on the road with no social security, or Socso to safeguard them.
Following this, 145,000 food delivery riders under Grab and Foodpanda were registered under Socso, a voluntary scheme. But the uptake has been low with only 64,773 actively contributing to it.
Riders Face Income Security Issues
Gig workers such as food delivery riders are different to full-time employees. Often they are considered temporary workers that provide on-demand services to the clients of the company, in this case, the customers of Grab and Foodpanda.
We might have read newspaper headlines about Grab or Foodpanda delivery riders earning up to RM7,000 a month, but this isn’t the same across the board. Despite the high income, these riders work extremely hard and still have insecurities when it comes to maintaining the level of income on a monthly basis.
Izwan Bujang, 29, a former auxiliary policeman earns up to RM7,000 per month – but he shares that orders are not consistent.
Sometimes when there are no orders coming in, I think to myself ‘What am I doing here? – Izwan Bujang, 29, food delivery rider
To Izwan, despite hard work being rewarded in the field, the future is unknown to him.
Although this job provides a good income if we are diligent, we have to think about our future as well.– Izwan Bujang, 29, food delivery rider
P-hailing drivers are not entitled to social protection such as the mandatory employer’s contribution to Employees Provident Fund (EPF).
The i-Saraan retirement savings schemes were launched encouraging gig workers such as p-hailing drivers to save up for retirement. But the contribution is at the worker’s expense alone.
Today, social protection for gig workers is mainly on a voluntary basis, such as the voluntary retirement savings scheme i-Saraan; the only mandatory form of social protection is work-related injury and accident insurance for e-hailing drivers, in line with PSV licence requirements. – The Centre 
Too Good To Be True
But, in recent months, many p-hailing drivers have seen their income reducing following the changes implemented in the payout system. Before, a typical food delivery rider could earn up to RM4,000 per month. But now, their income has been slashed. Many are earning between RM2,500 and RM3,000.
Previously, a few hours of work from morning to afternoon could get me RM100, now it’s tough to even get RM40 for an entire day’s work. – Boo, food delivery rider
Shuk, a food delivery rider since 2018, said he used to get RM7 for any delivery within a 5km distance and RM0.70 for each subsequent kilometre.
But this changed during the pandemic because many businesses closed down and people got laid off from their jobs. Now we only get paid RM5 for each trip. – Shuk, a food delivery rider
The change in payment had affected his income as he received RM1,000 less monthly.
Previously, a p-hailing rider would be paid almost RM90 after completing a total of 10 orders. That amount has significantly dropped. Nowadays, a p-hailing rider would only get around RM50 after completing nine orders. – Firdaus, a food delivery rider part of the strike
Added to his dilemma, there have been newer riders working both full-time and part-time, and amendments had to be made on the company’s end.
Our trips and payment also became lesser over time due to the sudden influx of riders. It is possible that some companies had to reduce the incentive benefits and perks to enable more riders to come on board. – Shuk, food delivery rider
24-Hour Delivery Blackout
On the 5th of August, 2022 – a 24-hour nationwide strike supported by the Malaysian P-Hailing Riders’ Association (Persatuan Penghantar P-Hailing Malaysia) took place. A total of 200 p-hailing riders in the Klang Valley gathered and delivered their memorandum to Grab Malaysia with five demands listed. The demands include:
- To reevaluate and increase the fare price paid to the riders according to the distance from the pickup location to the delivery address.
- Reinstating the bonus system, allowing riders to make more many according to trip and targets.
- To remove timetable or schedule system, which benefited only full-time riders.
- Abolishing rider account barring.
- To remove cash system features that are currently in place.
According to one of the group’s representatives, Mohd Firdaus Abdul Hamid, the demands are only sound given the increasing cost of living. The first demand of increasing fare prices based on the distance would ensure fair compensation.
For instance, we get the first order for RM5 and if suddenly a second order enters for the same area, we are only paid RM4 instead of RM5. This is not fair to us. Where is the original fare they promised us? – Mohd Firdaus Abdul Hamid, a food delivery rider part of the strike
Most of the riders who were part of the protest are part-time riders, and some of the benefits provided by ride-sharing companies have only benefitted full-time riders. One of these is the scheduling system that prioritises full-time riders.
Some riders who are signed on for part-time will not receive many orders. They become sidelined and are less likely to get any order. – Mohd Firdaus Abdul Hamid, a food delivery rider part of the strike
The current system automatically bars or blocks the rider’s account if the order was cancelled by the rider without giving a chance for the rider to state their reason. Their account is often barred for an unknown period of time.
Instead, they immediately bar us. This is not fair because once an account is barred it could last two days or even up to even two months. – Zulkifli Abdullah, a food delivery rider part of the strike
Some riders have even fallen to dishonest customers through the cash payment system.
We want them to discontinue the cash system, because many of us have had to wait for months for reimbursement. In some worst cases, we have gotten cheated, duped and scammed. – Zulkifli Abdullah, a food delivery rider part of the strike
Food delivery riders face the brunt of customer dissatisfaction for unavoidable delays in delivery.
Sometimes, the rain is too heavy for us to make deliveries, and sometimes the shops preparing the food are too slow. When the customers complain, our employers, without hearing our side, would suspend us. Our voices are not being heard. – Anonymous food delivery rider
The system that guides their monthly payout however did not take into account the risks that each rider faces or the distance some would have to go to deliver food.
We have to understand that riders are facing various challenges such as having a limited amount of time to complete some deliveries. If they don’t perform the delivery on time, they will see their ratings drop and could affect future earnings. What they are asking for is fair wages to compensate for their time and effort on the road. – Fazal Kamarudin, the founder of Ehailing.fm
Complaints Fallen On Deaf Ears
But the protest was not the first attempt of food delivery riders to highlight the issues many of them are facing. In 2020, a memo was submitted to Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan. In 2019, Foodpanda delivery riders organised a strike against the new rider payment system.
At the time, the minister gave us his assurance that he would find an amicable solution to our predicaments. Two years on, the problem affecting p-hailing riders remains unresolved. – Firdaus, a food delivery rider part of the strike
Abdul Hakim Abdul Rani, Malaysian P-Hailing Riders’ Association vice-president, explained that riders are paid a flat rate per delivery and are not compensated fairly for deliveries that may take longer to complete.
The protest is a way of giving these companies some awareness about how the riders are feeling in their current situation as they cope with the rising cost of living. They feel that they are earning less despite performing more deliveries. – Abdul Hakim Abdul Rani, Malaysian P-Hailing Riders’ Association vice-president
Noticeably, not all food delivery riders were part of the strike because skipping a day at work may jeopardise their livelihood.
The rest, with families, may carry on as usual because they need to earn their daily wages. I have heard of how riders start the day with zero and end the day with RM50. For some, that is enough money to feed a small family. – Fazal Kamarudin, the founder of Ehailing.fm
Results From Strikes And Protests
There are promising changes on the horizon in response to the food delivery rider strike. AirAsia Super App, a relatively new contender in the ride-sharing market, became the first in Asia to offer its gig workers full-time employment. Among the benefits is the minimum monthly wage of RM3,000 and benefits that include EPF, Socso and medical coverage.
If they can do it, why can’t other platforms do the same? – Firdaus, a food delivery rider part of the strike
But, the response from others such as Grab and Foodpanda, had been stale in comparison. Grab justified that there have not been changes to its base delivery fare and the RM3 instead of the usual RM5 base fare was part of a technical glitch. Foodpanda, on the other hand, offered a three-day bonus for riders who participate in the “Flexi bonus” programme during peak hours.
On the government front, however, a roundtable discussion between the food delivery riders’ representative and the transport minister, Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong, did not offer an appropriate solution to the demands of the riders.
The problems we raised have not been resolved despite all our efforts. Our companies treat us unfairly, and now even the government is not listening to us. – Anonymous food delivery rider
The government is looking to amend the Road Transport Act 1987, Commercial Vehicles Licensing Board Act 1987 and the Land Public Transport Act 2010 that will require p-hailing riders and drivers to obtain a Goods Driving Licence (GDL) to work.
The government is going to ask us to have a GDL so that they can regulate this issue, as a minister mentioned. – Anonymous food delivery rider
However, earning a GDL licence would only lead to more hurdles for both part-time and full-time p-hailing riders as it’ll consume their time and money. Both could have been utilised to earn money.
The majority of riders come from the B40 (income group) who are already facing hardships from the high costs of living, and adding more costs by requiring additional licences is absolute nonsense. – Azmi Adisyah, a p-hailing rider and third-year student from a local university
Another blow to p-hailing riders is the proposed amendment of reducing the minimum age from 21 to 18, leading to an influx and tougher competition in the sector.
The transport ministry is adamant about moving forward with their proposed solution but with adjustments to the duration and course structure. The rationale according to the ministry is to combat more traffic accidents and misconduct amongst p-hailing riders.
Those who apply for the vocational licence to become p-hailing riders need not go to driving schools or institutions but only be required to attend a three-hour induction course that will be conducted online. – Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong, transport minister
There is no denying that p-hailing drivers are here to stay, there are demands for their services from the general public. However, in order to keep up with the market demands, they ought to be compensated fairly. And, many put their lives at risk to provide meals for their families, thus it is necessary for their welfare and wellbeing to be taken into consideration despite their employment status.
Explore our sources:
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- M.Carvalho. T.Tan & R.Vethasalam. (2022). 1,242 food delivery rider accidents from 2018 to May 2021. The Star. Link
- N.Ross. (2021). Grab and Foodpanda riders are now covered by SOCSO, but is it enough? SoyaCincau. Link
- Z.Mohd Yusof. (2022). No need for diplomas or degrees, say SPM-toting food delivery riders. Free Malaysia Today. Link
- S.Ram. (2020). A Risky Gig: Majority Of M’sian E-Hailing & Delivery Drivers Have No Insurance Or Savings. SAYS. Link
- K.Perimbanayagam. (2022).E-hailing, p-hailing riders claim they earn less after Covid-19 pandemic. New Straits Times. Link
- A.Povera. &K.Perimbanayagam (2022). We’re left with no choice but to protest, say unhappy p-hailing riders. New Straits Times.Link
- K.Perimbanayagam & A.Povera. (2022). E-hailing riders make five demands for better compensation and working conditions. New Straits Times. Link
- A.S. Mohsen (2022). If AirAsia can do it, why can’t others? Delivery riders call for full-time employment. The Vibes. Link
- A.Yeoh. (2022). As the cost of living goes up, food delivery riders plan strike for Aug 5. The Star. Link
- H.Mahari. (2022).Food Delivery Blackout: riders pan govt’s proposed law changes. The Vibes. Link
- Bernama. (2022). Special Vocational Licence for p-hailing not the same as Goods Delivering Licence — Wee. The Edge Markets. Link