Fewer than 4 in 100 food delivery riders earn more than S$5,000 monthly: Study
According to the study, food delivery riders who earn more are likelier to get into accidents that need medical attention.
SINGAPORE: Fewer than 4 per cent of food delivery riders make above S$5,000 a month, but those who earn more are likelier to get into accidents that need medical attention, according to a report released on Friday (Nov 4).
Of the 1,002 platform delivery riders surveyed by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) in July and August this year, the largest proportion - 33.9 per cent - earns between S$1,000 and S$1,999.
Survey respondents are between 21 and 65 years and mostly men. The report, titled "Current realities, social protection and future needs of platform food delivery workers in Singapore", is complemented by in-depth interviews with riders as part of the IPS' ongoing ethnographic work.
Apart from income, the report looked at the hours food delivery riders spent in their job, the challenges they face, their attitudes towards contributing to Central Provident Fund (CPF) and the social protection they require, among other details.
Speaking about the report's findings on Friday, IPS Social Lab Principal Research Fellow and Head Mathew Mathews said that while riders were generally satisfied with their work, some areas needed improvement.
"On the undercurrent if you look a little deeper, there are many areas that you really would need to consider when improvement is much important, especially areas of social protection, things which would help to safeguard workers welfare, especially in the longer-term horizon," Dr Mathews said.
The report comes ahead of the Advisory Committee on Platform Workers' findings on how to strengthen the protection for self-employed persons working for online platforms.
Formed last year, the committee will look into how to improve retirement and housing adequacy, ensure adequate financial protection in case of work injury and how to close the gap in bargaining power for platform workers, including private hire car drivers, delivery riders and taxi drivers. It will engage platforms and their workers and is expected to complete its work this year.
SALARIES AND WOES
According to IPS, 23.6 per cent of riders earn less than S$1,000 a month from food delivery work, 33.9 per cent earn between S$1,000 and S$1,999, 13 per cent earn between S$2,000 and $2,999, and 29.5 per cent earn S$3,000 and above.
Only 3.2 per cent of riders make at least S$5,000 a month.
Respondents were also asked about the number of hours they worked in a day to achieve their highest monthly earnings.
Riders who earned less than S$5,000 for their highest monthly earning typically worked between 8 and 12 hours, while the majority of riders who earned S$5,000 and above worked 10 to 12 hours.
About one in 10 riders were able to earn at least S$5,000 in a month in the last one year.
The report noted that there was a perception among delivery riders that those with higher education were able to employ strategies that allow them to maximise their earnings.
Asked about these strategies, Research Associate Thian Wen Li said they involved finding the right spots to go to at the right time.
"There's no concrete evidence where some of the strategies work or not. But it's just that when we follow riders who earn a little bit more, we realise that there's some kind of consistency in the way they behave, compared to riders who earn significantly less," Ms Thian said.
Dr Mathews added: "It's strategy, that constant thinking about - whether it's correct or wrong - there's an attempt to try to find a particular way to be able to get more earnings. So if they notice that they're not getting enough calls, enough orders, they will do something to be able to accelerate that, find something, so they just don't take it lying down."
Currently, platforms incentivise riders to work at peak hours and locations where there is an expected demand. Riders who strategise with these in mind may also be able to maximise their hours-to-income payoff, said the study.
The foremost worry among riders, however, was the sustainability of their income given the rising number of riders in the industry.
Around 68 per cent of respondents feared not being able to earn enough with the increased competition.
Describing what the work was like, one 26-year-old rider was quoted as saying in the report: "At night from the ground, like a bunch of wolves trying to get pieces of meat on the ground. Like hawker throw food on the floor, and like birds go fight. That’s how competitive it is.”
About 67.1 per cent of respondents worried about the rising cost of living, while 64.8 per cent feared that they would no longer earn enough due to platform companies reducing financial incentives.
Noting that the riders agreed that the fares were not as good as before, Ms Thian said: "No longer (do) you have 2017, 2016 days where you can earn high amounts.
"So even with the fluctuation overall there is a trend in the wages dropping. And that's why it's a concern if people rely on food delivery as the only form of income."
The report also noted that riders who earn more from food delivery work worked longer hours and were likelier to get into at least one accident that required medical attention.
On this, Dr Mathews said: "We also noticed that people who ride more hours, 38 per cent of them had at least one accident requiring medical attention. So it does make it clear to us that if you take this job fairly seriously and put in quite a lot of hours to it to get what will be a decent wage then you are likely to, or you're susceptible to accidents."
"So this again becomes very clear that you need some kind of protection," he added. He noted that it was natural for riders working long hours to lose concentration or get more tired.
In this vein, the proportion of riders who had an accident requiring medical attention increased steadily among riders who earned higher incomes.
Around 36.6 per cent of those who earned at least S$3,000 monthly had been in an accident that required medical attention, compared to 24.3 per cent of those who earned less than S$1,000.
One motorcyclist food delivery rider, known as Max in the report, managed to earn a five-figure monthly salary occasionally from food delivery. But the rider said he had to work 20 days straight for 12 to 16 hours daily, and fell sick after and needed to rest for four to five days. His last accident also ended up with him in a coma for a few days in the hospital, according to the report.
Around 17.7 per cent of riders who used power-assisted bicycles, e-bikes and motorcycles rode faster than normally allowed to increase their earnings.
Food delivery riders are not mandated to contribute to CPF due to their self-employed status, and only 7.2 per cent contribute at least 20 per cent of their income to CPF voluntarily every month.
Of those who earn from only food delivery work, 41.9 per cent do not voluntarily contribute to CPF.
While food delivery riders, as self-employed persons, have to contribute up to 10.5 per cent of their food delivery income to their CPF Medisave accounts, 34.1 per cent of riders do not do so, and 73.5 per cent were unaware of this policy.
Riders were divided on the issue of contributing to CPF, with over half worried that they would have much less income to take home if CPF were deducted from their earnings. Some suggested making CPF contributions a choice for the rider.
Of those surveyed, 51.2 per cent wanted CPF contributions, while 48.8 per cent did not. Around 68.4 per cent of riders indicated they wanted CPF to buy a house or pay their mortgage, while 48.7 per cent felt that it was easier to save for their retirement through CPF.
About 34.5 per cent believed that CPF contributions are a good savings method due to the reasonably good interest rate, while 21.4 per cent trusted the CPF Board to help make the most of their savings.
EARNINGS STILL A PRIORITY
Asked to choose between having platform companies give good protection - such as insurance coverage - in exchange for lower payments, or higher payments in exchange for less protection, a larger proportion chose higher payments.
Only 35.9 per cent of riders were satisfied with the medical benefits provided by the delivery platforms, 45.5 per cent were satisfied with the personal accident coverage, and 45.1 per cent were satisfied with the insurance benefits provided.
More than a third of respondents surveyed were unaware of the benefits provided by these platforms.
Earlier this year, the IPS produced another study which found that while food delivery and private-hire vehicle platforms allow people from low-income backgrounds to earn quickly, these workers risk becoming entrenched in platform work and trapped in poverty.
In the current study, only 18.5 per cent of respondents said that they had attended training which would help them towards getting another job since becoming food delivery riders. Some said they had no time to attend training as earnings were a priority.
The IPS has since provided the report to relevant stakeholders and hopes that the advisory committee considers the findings.
"Here you have a fairly large group of workers whose median income comes just under S$2,000, who work a full day's work load and who're not able to accrue a lot of savings and have enough to take care of them, whether it's retirement, whether it's their housing needs," said Dr Mathews.
"So that I think prompts the question about whether they are adequately protected and whether more needs to be done to ensure this happens."