By Miguel Hanz L. Antivola

The conditions of gig workers at local ride-hailing and delivery platforms have shown no improvement since last year, according to a study, highlighting financial insecurity and safety risks due to limited protections.

The Fairwork Philippines Ratings 2023 study on protecting workers’ health, safety, and security in the local platform economy evaluated ten ride-hailing and delivery platforms.

Fairwork is an action-research project coordinated by the Oxford Internet Institute and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. It evaluates the working conditions on digital platforms and ranks them based on five principles: fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management, and fair representation.

Platforms are only given a point when they can satisfactorily demonstrate their implementation of the principles.

None of the ten platforms demonstrated fair pay and representation among workers, Fairwork said in a statement e-mailed to reporters on Thursday.

On the fair conditions principle, one out of the ten platforms (GrabCar) received a point for providing workers with “sufficient protection.”

Meanwhile, on fair contracts, four out of the ten platforms (GrabCar, GrabExpress/Food, Angkas, and Lalamove) received a point for showing evidence of clear and accessible contracts or terms of service.

On fair management, two out of the ten platforms (GrabCar and GrabExpress/Food) received a point for having formalized processes that allow workers to appeal decisions.

The study used desk research, interviews with platform management, and worker interviews with a sample of 6-10 workers per platform. In cases where platform managers do not agree to interviews, scores are limited to evidence obtained through desk research and worker interviews.

According to the 2022 edition of the Fairwork Philippines study, there are around 500,000 gig workers in the ride-hailing and delivery sectors.

“Platform-related indebtedness, a major finding in this year’s study, pertains to a situation where gig workers become indebted – to informal money lenders, vehicle companies, operators, and contractors – in the aspirational process of gaining access to platform work,” said Cheryll Ruth R. Soriano, the principal investigator at Fairwork Philippines, in a press statement.

“Only to experience financial insecurity as they assume the costs of production that platforms do not shoulder,” she added.

“The end result is the rider or driver being chained to platform labor for survival, working longer and harder hours to make a living.”

The study said that a two-wheel delivery rider earns a daily average of P750. Although above the minimum wage, daily work-related costs are not factored in, such as P150 for gas, P20 for mobile data load, P30 for vehicle maintenance and repairs, and a P90 daily charge of a monthly motorbike amortization.

After working for 11 hours, a rider is only left with P460 take-home pay on top of unpaid waiting hours, safety risks, and a lack of accessible insurance mechanisms, the study noted.

“Platforms must adopt measures that include free group life and accident insurance coverage,” said Virgel C. Binghay, a co-investigator at Fairwork Philippines. “Which should be accessible to workers, alongside assurances that their ability to work will not be limited during claims processing.”

“Platforms must have welcoming and responsive mechanisms to encourage workers to report experiences of bullying and harassment without consequences to their accounts, ratings, tiers, or incentives,” he added.

Prospects of regulation regarding the welfare of gig workers include the four Senate bills currently under consideration in the 19th Congress: Senate Bill (SB) 1234 or the Delivery Riders Protection Act; SB 1275 or the Delivery Platform Riders Protection Act of 2022; SB 1373 or the Protektadong Online Workers, Entrepreneurs, Riders, and Raketera Act of 2022; and SB 1385 or the Delivery Services Protection Act.

Fairwork noted that SB 1373 has outlined the most progressive proposal. “While it recognizes the possibility that gig workers may be declared as employees using the existing tests of the employment relationship, the Bill also provides stand-alone protections and standards of work regardless of the gig workers’ employment status,” it said.

Grab, Angkas, and JoyRide were sought to comment on the claims of the report. 

“JoyRide Philippines did not participate in any survey of Fairwork Philippines for the purpose of rating our MC Taxi (2-wheel) and JoyRide Car (4-wheel) services,” JoyRide said in a Viber statement to BusinessWorld. 

“JoyRide is not aware of the factual or legal basis of any and all reports of said company,” it added. 

Meanwhile, Grab responded with a study from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on 1,200 GrabFood two-wheeler driver experiences in the Philippines (Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao) conducted on July 2022. 

According to the ADB study, GrabFood delivery drivers reported positive feedback on their job experience due to three main reasons: flexibility in working hours, decent earnings (P5,699 per week), and independent working conditions. 

Additionally, about one-third of the drivers had an accident in the past 12 months. More than 70% of drivers were willing to pay for health insurance if affordable programs are made available. 

Based on data from the national statistics agency, the category of self-employed Filipinos in the transport sector increased to 14% in 2018, from 9% in 2012. This was the year when ride hailing and delivery platforms such as Grab, Uber, Lalamove, and Angkas became active in the market. 

Jayvy R. Gamboa, legal consultant at Fairwork Philippines, recommended the establishment of an inclusive legal framework granting living wages after cost, government-mandated social security and health insurance, and compensation and insurance coverage for work-related illness and injury.

“While delivery drivers were relatively well protected against COVID-19 by the vaccine, protection of worker welfare more broadly remains a key area for growth,” the ADB study said on GrabFood drivers. 

“Given the risk of accidents that drivers face on a daily basis, this can be supported by affordable medical insurance schemes [to] promote the sustainability of gig economy employment as an outlet for workers in times of economic crisis,” it added. 

“We hope platforms operating in the Philippines and the policy makers would follow suit in promoting critical and urgent pro -worker reforms,” said Tobias Kuttler, research associate at Fairwork. 

“If we do not attend to this now, we will have a large segment of our labor force in the near future that is physically depleted yet without access to insurance or protection, which reinforces cycles of insecurity and poverty,” Mr. Gamboa said.