As Brisbane endured two snap lockdowns and heavy rain in March 2021, emergency doctors at one northside hospital recorded a sharp spike in injured food delivery drivers.
- New research shows more food delivery drivers were injured during Brisbane lockdowns
- Food delivery platforms say delivery driver safety is critical
- Researchers say it’s not as clear-cut as simply boycotting food delivery platforms
Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) emergency specialist Claire Bertenshaw said there was a clear trend across the pandemic.
From September 2020 to September 2021, researchers at the Jamieson Trauma Institute and RBWH emergency specialists recorded 22 injured food delivery drivers at the hospital.
Dr Bertenshaw said most of the injuries came during lockdowns from road collisions.
Broken bones were frequent, and incidents were highest on weekends and evenings.
More than 70 per cent of the injured drivers at the RBWH were migrants, nearly all men, and only 22.7 per cent were eligible for workers’ compensation. Less than half were covered by Medicare, she said.
‘I could be killed so many times’
The food delivery sector boomed during the pandemic.
Data from market research company Roy Morgan in May 2021 showed lockdowns supercharged the sector, with more orders and more workers signing up.
Transport engineer Carla moved to Brisbane from Chile in 2018, keen to experience Australia’s “shiny” reputation for herself.
But the country’s glamour, however, was tempered by the fact that Carla’s student visa restricted her to working 20 hours per week.
Like many of her peers, she found work as a cleaner and delivery driver.
“I met a lot of cleaners — they are lawyers, engineers, everything, and we are cleaning and doing Uber because we are under the student visa restrictions,” Carla said.
While her UberEats earnings and cleaning pay covered food and rent, Carla, too, was injured on the roads.
“[UberEats] was good, but I had an accident. Then I was afraid because at that moment I didn’t have my car, just my little scooter, and because it was raining I fell down,” she said.
“It took a lot of time to recover and then I was so afraid.”
Now, she only delivers by car. On her scooter, she felt targeted by other drivers.
“They scream at you, they try to cross in front of you with a car, they don’t respect you at all,” she said.
“I was using the same scooter, with or without the [UberEats] bag, and it was completely different.
An Uber spokesperson said safety was “fundamental” for the platform.
“In Australia, Uber Eats provides every delivery person with specialized insurance which covers accidents and injuries, as well as income support, should something go wrong while they’re on a trip with our platform,” the spokesperson said.
“This package is provided at no additional cost to delivery people, and also includes counseling support.”
DoorDash, Menulog and Deliveroo all said they offered their contractors personal injury insurance, general liability, or third-party insurance.
‘They are sold a dream’
University of Queensland researcher Tyler Riordan shadowed migrant delivery drivers during the pandemic.
He said visa restrictions meant many highly qualified people, like Carla, were working well below their abilities.
If she had a good delivery run, Carla might make about $100 over three or four hours — or she might only make $6 or $7.
Mr Riordan said those earnings did not cover expenses such as the driver’s vehicle and phone costs, superannuation, leave, or insurance.
On the flip side, he said, migrants using food delivery platforms generally had more control over work hours, and a better guarantee of payment, compared to cash in hand in the hospitality industry.
Mr Riordan said, ethically, using food delivery platforms was not always black and white, even if drivers were earning less than the minimum wage.
“If we’re using the platforms, then we’re giving them work and we’re giving them better work than other work available to them,” he said.
“So it’s not as easy as saying, ‘OK, we’ll boycott the platforms’.
Mr Riordan said customers should always say hello to delivery drivers, always tip in cash, and — if physically able — avoid ordering food in bad weather.
“We need to put pressure on the governments to regulate this work, and we need to put pressure on these platforms to pay these people fairly for the work that they do.”
Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace said Queensland wanted better regulation for delivery drivers and was seeking federal approval to modify the relevant state laws.
She said, to date, the federal government has not approved her request.