DoorDash has agreed to extend a form of paid pandemic leave to delivery contractors in a new deal with the Transport Workers Union (TWU).
Aussie meal delivery drivers working for the American-headquartered platform will receive financial assistance if they test positive for COVID-19, are instructed to self-isolate, or are at high risk if they contract the virus.
The first-of-its-kind joint agreement will see gig economy workers, who are paid as contractors, receive entitlements typically associated with a formal employment relationship — a longstanding point of contention across the burgeoning meal delivery industry.
It comes as state officials in Victoria and NSW continue to urge workers with COVID-19 symptoms to self-isolate as coronavirus clusters continue to emerge from workplace and restaurant environments.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine says the DoorDash agreement is an “important first step” in delivering suitable protections and benefits for gig economy contractors.
“Food delivery workers are essential frontline workers who allow businesses to stay open and people to eat safely while under lockdown,” Kaine said in a statement.
“These workers need protections to keep them safe and they need to be paid when they can’t work due to COVID-19.”
The quantum of the financial assistance payments was not disclosed on Tuesday.
In a subsequent statement, a DoorDash spokesperson said the payments will be based on average weekly earnings.
“A Dasher’s (driver) average weekly earnings will be based on their last three months of earnings before the date of infection or quarantine, not including any weeks prior to your first delivery,” the company said in an emailed statement.
“Dashers must have a valid DoorDash account and be in good standing. Dashers must have been on the platform for at least thirty (30) days as of the date of infection or quarantine and completed at least thirty (30) deliveries over the thirty (30) days, as of the date of infection or quarantine.
“Upon submitting a claim, the Dasher’s account will be temporarily suspended to protect the wider DoorDash community.”
DoorDash is now urging other gig economy platforms, including Deliveroo and UberEats, to introduce their own financial assistance payments for drivers.
“It is incumbent upon us to support Dashers as they work to serve others, and we will continue to help protect these frontline workers while we remain committed to providing economic opportunities in the safest way possible,” DoorDash chief executive Tony Xu said in a statement.
Deliveroo says it introduced a support fund for riders who regularly work on the platform in March, such that if they experience COVID-19 symptoms or are told to self isolate they could access financial help.
“The TWU’s claim that Deliveroo does not provide these benefits is incorrect. The safety of our riders and the public is of paramount importance and since our inception we’ve provided free personal injury and income protection insurance and free public liability insurance to all Deliveroo riders,” a Deliveroo spokesperson said in a statement.
“Uber was the first rideshare or online food delivery platform to introduce a COVID-19 compensation package. This compensation package introduced in early March provided financial assistance for driver and delivery partners who were instructed to self-isolate or those who tested positive. This was shortly after expanded to include those who were instructed to self-isolate due to pre-existing conditions,” the company said.
An inability to access paid leave was highlighted as a structural issue across the meal delivery industry in a recent report put together by former Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James for the Victorian government.
The risk is that many gig economy contractors are showing up to work when sick, knowing they need their paycheck to pay the bills.
“You can understand why people would exercise these choices even though it’s not the right thing to do,” James told SmartCompany last week.
Beyond the practical protections associated with the pandemic, the TWU agreement marks a step-change in the longstanding debate about insecure work across the gig economy.
Meal delivery platforms have long remained staunch in their view that contractual relationships with drivers did not constitute employment relationships.
But financial payments in lieu of services rendered are characteristic of an employment relationship, and the TWU has signalled its intention to continue talks.
“Through this joint agreement, we want other companies to come on board to protect workers and we want State and Federal Governments to back the process,” Kaine said.
“We believe that collaborating with DoorDash is an important step towards giving gig economy workers the rights and protections they deserve.”
Under the agreement, DoorDash will continue to provision masks, hand sanitiser and gloves for drivers, while all deliveries have defaulted to no-contact.
The TWU hopes DoorDash will also come to the table on insurance for riders and drivers who are injured on the job, but no agreement has been reached yet.
This story was updated to add additional comment from Deliveroo and later Uber about their own support funds.