Michael Pascoe: One small idea to save lives, if anyone cares

The kids – they are mostly little more than kids – pedal off in into the wet night in dark clothing on busy roads.

Maybe their delivery bags have a flash of reflective plastic, maybe not.

Last month, two were killed in separate traffic accidents in Sydney. Unusually, one was older, a man trying to support a family.

I mentioned it to a friend, a bloke I know to be a cautious driver, told him I had long thought there was something offensively exploitive about the way the food delivery racket worked.

He said he had nearly hit a rider himself the previous week – just didn’t see him on a bike that had a weak light.

So how are the food delivery companies, multinational giants some of them, allowed to get away with it?

Oh, that’s right – the delivery kids don’t work for them. They are “independent contractors”. They are not employees who would be afforded the usual minimum standards of care.

And when they die, working in dangerous conditions without basic safety gear, their families get nothing.

Food delivery riders sit in a deserted alley waiting for pickup orders during curfew in Melbourne. Photo: Getty

And they do it for about half the so-called “minimum wage”, according to a survey last month.

COVID has resulted in a surge of would-be riders – mainly foreign students desperate for any income – making it harder to earn a subsistence income.

A cynical soul might think a reason for the government excluding foreign students from any assistance during the pandemic was that it wanted to ensure there would be a ready supply of cheap labour with no choice but to do a dangerous job while Australians stayed safely locked down.

Even as COVID restrictions ease, in the sort of filthy weather we started this week with, it’s wonderfully easy to stay dry, warm and safe inside and get somebody else’s child to deliver dinner via two thin wheels over treacherous streets.

The contrast with most health and safety couldn’t be greater.

I’m open to the suggestion OH&S has gone too far in some cases when there seem to be multiple very well-paid lollipop people sitting around the quietest of construction sites.

The casualisation of large swathes of the workforce is a much broader issue, one that the federal government is delighted with and apparently wants to extend, using the euphemism of being “more flexible”.

Whatever that bigger issue, as a bare minimum, you might think there would be a politician or two at any level of government who would mandate that employers provide basic safety gear at the employer’s cost for “independent contractors”.

All those food delivery bags should be very hi-viz. Every rider should at least be wearing a fluoro vest.

Make it a non-negotiable part of the delivery company’s licence to operate, with all the onus on the company, not the rider.

That would be a start. If anyone cared. The delivery companies clearly don’t.

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