“Recognize our union; negotiate with us!” Pampanga Delivery drivers cried last January 25 during the launch of the Pampanga chapter of the National Union of Delivery Riders (RIDERS). Intending to cover all platform-based delivery drivers from apps like Grab, FoodPanda and Maxim, RIDERS fights for health insurance and income security, among other basic protections.
Mark Larson (left) and Mary Rose (right)
The Solidarity Center apple to RIDERS organizers Mark Larson and Mary Rose, who were illegally terminated and suspended last December following a labor rally they both attended. They then filed a case with the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) and currently await the labor arbiter’s decision.
Greener Pastures in Delivery Work
“When Grab first opened in Pampanga around June 2019, we were only around 20 drivers,” says Larson.
Larson and Rose were among the pioneer Grab delivery drivers in their province. Before joining, Larson had worked as a fast-food delivery driver, and Rose was a migrant worker in Dubai. Both were enticed to join Grab because it held the opportunity of reasonable wages and flexible work hours. Both Larson and Rose are their respective families’ breadwinners, with Rose being a single mother of five and Larson supporting his family of six.
Mark (left) and Rose (right) are with their family. Faces blurred for privacy.
In the Philippines, apps like Grab utilize a cash-on-delivery system that makes delivery drivers like Larson and Rose temporarily pay for their customer’s food order. The customer then pays the delivery drivers back once they receive their order. This opens up the possibility of fake bookings, such as when the customer never claims the food.
Cracks in the System
Emerging from the pandemic, food delivery services became typical for Filipinos. The delivery boom necessitated Grab to add more delivery drivers. Research conducted in 2022 byFairwork Philippines estimates that Grab employs 40,000 delivery drivers. Its competitor, Foodpanda, employs 45,000.
However, increasing delivery drivers meant steeper competition, and fewer bookings meant less income. “Before, working late into the night was a choice. Now it is a necessity,” says Rose. “Despite consistent good performance, it is a game of chance— some accounts have stronger bookings on some days and slower bookings on others,” Larson adds.
The incentive system they used before the pandemic was also adjusted. “They may have raised the incentive amount, but they also raised the number of rides you will need to reach it. In the end, the delivery driver loses,” says Rose.
While delivery drivers in Pampanga have been complaining about these issues, the push for collective action came when Grab informed the delivery drivers that they would implement fare changes. On the day Grab Pampanga implemented the announced fare change, Pampanga delivery drivers were shocked to find fares that went below 38 pesos (about 69 cents).
Grab Pampanga’s Pricing Matrix Provided to GrabFood Delivery Drivers, 2022
Pax refers to the net income of the delivery driver per transaction. Dax is what the customer will pay. The difference between the two (Dax minus Pax) is what goes to Grab. Example computations change the base rate of around 49 pesos (about 89 cents) to 38 pesos (about 69 cents).
Larson remembers the anger and confusion that delivery drivers felt when they saw how little they would make, considering that they needed to spend their money on motorcycle maintenance, gas, mobile data and cellular load, and delivery boxes.
When management informed the delivery drivers of the change in late 2022, it was through a Zoom call where comments were screened and monitored. Grab Pampanga did not seek prior input from delivery drivers. “We also have a Discord channel with the management, but they usually just mute the chat when they don’t want to be bothered,” explains Larson.
He continues, “Delivery drivers within their areas started talking to each other, and agreed to do a motorcade and noise barrage. Almost 600 delivery drivers were a part of that first rally.”
At the time, since Larson was the team leader in his area, his fellow delivery drivers asked him to go to the Grab Pampanga management office to communicate their demands. Weeks of negotiating with management proved to be unfruitful. “They told us it was a system error, but they don’t know when it would be corrected. They said their hands were tied because they didn’t have access to the fare matrix. They only follow what the main office tells them,” Larson says.
At that point, the Pampanga management team regarded Larson as the spokesperson of the delivery drivers, specifically those who had rallied. He was given a warning because he allegedly violated the company’s code of conduct and was called to a meeting. Rose, who was present during the rally, was also issued a warning. During their meeting, management purported that Larson was the leader of the rally, and that Rose was wearing Grab’s uniform during the rally. A second meeting was called, which coincided with a planned labor rally. After attending the second rally, Larson was terminated, while Rose was indefinitely suspended.
Call to Action
“Ultimately, they’re [Grab] the ones who pushed us to unionize,” Rose says. Rose and Larson eventually attended orientation seminars and training on trade unionism and worker rights. Together with other delivery drivers, they formed the Pampanga Chapter of the United Delivery Riders of the Philippines (RIDERS).
“We saw that it was the only way for us to fight for our rights. Because if we do it individually, they will never notice us. They would just terminate us, and we would have a hard time fighting back,” says Larson, “At least now that I have a union to support me, I can fight.”
“The number one reason delivery drivers are scared,” Larson says, “is because they believe that they are not employees of the app.” In the Philippines, no specific labor law has provisions for workers in the gig economy. However, arecent ruling from the Supreme Court established an employer-employee relationship between Lazada, an e-commerce platform and its delivery drivers. Larson and Rose are hopeful that this can be the start of future legislation for delivery drivers.
Larson and Rose’s pending case with the NLRC has yet to be settled. Rose has since been reinstated but continues to fight and organize.
When Rose was asked why she continues to fight, she replied,“When you see your dignity being stepped on, you must stand up for yourself. We don’t have laws for us [delivery drivers]. Unionizing is how not only the company but also the government will notice us.”
More than a hundred Grab food delivery riders launched the Iloilo Grab Riders Union (IGRU) in Iloilo City, Philippines, on November 24, then staged a unity ride around the city, located on Panay Island. Some 200 drivers joined in the ride, with more riders taking part from the streets, organizers said. The newly formed union’s demand is for just fares, paid sick leave and other social protections, and union recognition.
“The increasing price of gasoline and of commodities and the decrease in base fare delivery fees makes Grab riders work twice their normal hours to get the same wage they earned before the pandemic,”Archie, one of the Grab drivers who helped organize IGRU, said on the local radio show DZRH News. Archie is also a member of the Partido ng Manggagawa (Labor Party).
Photo Credit: Solidarity Center/Andreanna Garcia
Preceding the launch of IGRU, gig drivers from Grab and other platforms such as Food Panda and Maxim had begun to form unions across the Philippines. On August 15, some 300 delivery riders from General Santos City organized under the union, United Delivery Riders of the Philippines (RIDERS). RIDERS is composed of delivery riders from Food Panda, Maxim and Grab. Unity rides have also been conducted in the cities of General Santos and Cebu. Elsewhere in the country, local chapters of RIDERS also have begun to organize.
Their aim is to formally establish the United Delivery Riders of the Philippines (RIDERS) as the national union for the riders. “During the pandemic, when Grab suspended the GrabCar service, Grab food delivery drivers became the lifeline of the company. Is it wrong to ask them to be fair?” asked John Jay, a multi-app driver and organizer from Metro Manila. He attended the IGRU launch to express support for his fellow Grab drivers.
In addition to the decrease in earnings, delivery drivers in the Philippines have little or no job security or basic benefits as they are part of the gig economy. Under Philippine labor laws, delivery riders are classified as “independent contractors,” which does not provide an employee-employer relationship. As gig economy workers, delivery riders are not entitled to social protections such as health insurance and income security, among other basic protections.
“Our interests will be protected only through the passing of laws,” said Mark, a driver and organizer from Pampanga. Like John Jay, he also traveled to Iloilo to share a message of solidarity for his fellow riders.
Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros proposed the Protektadong Online Workers, Entrepreneurs, Riders at Raketera (POWERR) Act, which would protect workers in the gig economy. A committee currently is working on the bill.
The IGRU launch was supported by the Solidarity Center, the global union IUF, RIDERS, the Center of United and Progressive Workers (SENTRO), Partido ng Manggagawa (Labor Party) and the Brotherhood of Two Wheels (Kagulong).
At age 22, N. Naga Durga Bhavani left her small village in India for Bahrain, where she hoped a job as a domestic worker would help pay for her young daughter’s heart surgery. But when she arrived, after paying labor recruiters the equivalent of nearly two months’ wages, she says her passport and papers were taken and she was forced to work long hours, trapped in an abusive environment where she was beaten, her fingers broken.
After she escaped, the Indian Embassy could not help her leave the country because she had no identification. Only through the efforts of the Migrant Forum in Asia and the National Domestic Workers Movement in India, both Solidarity Center partners, did Bhavani’s employer relinquish her passport, allowing her to return home. Bhavani’s experience as a migrant domestic worker is not unique—nor can her employment be called “decent work.”
Today, millions of union members and their allies around the world are marking World Day for Decent Work 2013 to highlight the plight of workers like Bhavani and the millions who toil for poverty-level wages in exploitative working conditions that are unsafe, unhealthy and even life-threatening. Among them are Bangladesh garment factory workers who face locked doors when fires break out; female pineapple workers who experience sexual harassment on Honduran plantations; and Liberian rubber workers forced to carry hundreds of pounds of raw latex across plantations.
It took two months before Bhavani’s employer returned her passport, said Lissy Joseph, national coordinator of National Domestic Workers Movement. Joseph and eight other migrant worker activists, all of whose organizations are members of the Migrant Forum in Asia, were in the United States for the Oct. 3-4 United Nations High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development. They traveled to Washington, D.C., last week and met with Solidarity Center staff, as well as U.S. government representatives.
Migrant workers, many of whom are domestic workers, are among the most exploited in the world. Yet, “we cannot stop people from migrating because that is the means to their livelihood,” says Joseph. So she and other members of the Migrant Forum in Asia, a regional network of trade unions, non-government organizations (NGOs) and associations, promote the rights and welfare of migrant workers by addressing discriminatory laws and policies, violence against women migrants, unjust living conditions, unemployment in the origin countries and other issues. In short, they are moving forward with the World Day for Decent Work imperative: Organize!
“Our concern in working together is the solidarity of workers around the world,” says Joseph.
The exorbitant and exploitative fees labor recruiters often charge migrant workers and the abusive conditions workers can face after arriving in destination countries are two of the biggest problems for those forced to leave their countries to make a living, the migrant activists told the Solidarity Center. In fact, roughly three migrant workers from Nepal die each day—from abuse, exposure to unfamiliar climates and even suicide, said Nilambar Badal, from the Asian Human Rights and Culture Development Forum Migrants Center in Nepal.
Although destination countries and origin countries may have solid laws for protecting labor rights, too-often they are not enforced. “There is still a big gap in terms of the reality on the ground,” said Ellene Sana, a policy advocate for the Center for Migrant Advocacy in the Philippines, a country that officially says 1.8 million of its citizens are migrant workers, mostly in the Middle East.
And while working conditions frequently are bad for migrant workers, when they return home, there are no jobs “so they re- migrate and the cycle of abuse continues,” said Sanjendra Vignaraja, Solidarity Center program officer in Sri Lanka. In India, there is now a “greater disparity between haves and have nots,” said Joseph.
But India is not unique. Across the globe, the increasing wealth gap often leaves workers with few options, many of which cannot be called decent work. Which is why organizations that bring workers together for a stronger voice are so critical.
Campaign and Media Communications Director
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