‘Blood on their hands’: UberEats caught in safety failings over driver deaths

UberEats has admitted it doesn't know whether all of its riders are using safe equipment.

UberEats has admitted it doesn't know whether all of its riders are using safe equipment. Photo: TND

New details have emerged about the deaths of three delivery drivers last year after UberEats representatives gave “deeply worrying” evidence to an inquiry in New South Wales.

Documents tabled in NSW Parliament on Monday reveal an UberEats worker was killed last year while driving an e-bike that “appeared to not be approved” for use in the state, just months after another worker died while wearing an “unapproved helmet”.

NSW’s workplace safety regulator, SafeWork, found UberEats broke health and safety laws on multiple occasions in 2020, noting 74 separate incidents of serious injury.

But in a striking series of admissions during the NSW parliamentary inquiry, UberEats claimed it was “not possible” to ensure all of its delivery riders were using safe equipment and vehicles permitted for use on Australian roads.

“Naturally we could require someone to attend a location with a bike, but once they’ve done that we actually have no way of knowing what bicycle someone is on,” UberEats general manager Matthew Denham said.

“Practically, it is not possible for us to ensure that we know exactly what bike everyone is on for every single trip.”

Extraordinarily, when first asked whether UberEats knew a driver killed in September was using an unapproved vehicle at the time of the incident, Mr Denham said he was “not aware”.

He later clarified his response after Labor MPs noted SafeWork’s reports, saying the company was aware of the regulator’s improvement notices.

“Do you wish to explain how it’s possible that a person would be riding on a platform using both a bike and a helmet that is not approved?” NSW’s shadow minister for the gig economy Daniel Mookhey asked.

“What we want is for everyone to be using our platform safely and we want to make information available for them,” Mr Denham responded.

“The licensing regime requires that they [drivers] be aware of their responsibilities and obligations under the law, including having the appropriate equipment.”

Health and safety breaches

SafeWork NSW handed UberEats three separate improvement notices last year, in which it said the company had exposed workers to “serious risk” by failing to identify reasonably foreseeable hazards.

“Riders are not provided with adequate information, instruction and training to familiarise them with the risks associated with the work, the environment in which they are working or the control measures that must be implemented for this work to be undertaken safely,” SafeWork said in an improvement notice to UberEats seen by The New Daily.

The regulator also identified a series of breaches of workplace health and safety law by UberEats competitor HungryPanda, including drivers operating on overseas licences without adequate safety instruction.

Mr Mookhey told TND after Monday’s hearings that UberEats’ testimony was “deeply worrying”.

“UberEats should be moving much faster to lift safety standards on their platform to ensure these tragedies don’t repeat,” he said.

The revelations are just the latest in a long line of mounting concerns about workplace conditions for the tens of thousands of contracted drivers working on Uber’s Australian platforms.

‘Blood on their hands’

UberEats told a federal Senate inquiry last week that it pays drivers less than the casual minimum wage on average, a rate of compensation that unions argue – and research demonstrates – pushes drivers to compromise on safety.

Transport Workers Union national secretary Michael Kaine said UberEats’ testimony exposed the company’s workplace safety failures.

“[UberEats] has got the blood of three hard-working riders in their fleet on their hands,” Mr Kaine told The New Daily.

“If you don’t pay workers enough when they’re on the road interfacing with the general community, then you’ve got a deadly recipe.”

UberEats said on Monday that it has not yet finalised all of the insurance payouts to the families of dead workers – worth between $500,000 and $600,000 – and confirmed the process is being managed externally by casualty insurer Chubb.

Mr Denham said the insurance process was complicated and that taking more than six months was “very common”.

The meal delivery giant has also not been in direct contact with each of the affected families and has instead communicated with some through its insurance partner.

Change is coming

UberEats has backed a national reform process to improve safety standards and insurance requirements for delivery drivers.

“We want to work with government to see how we can improve the quality of independent work,” Mr Denham said.

“We will be conducting policy roundtables with various think tanks and academics on the questions of what extending more benefits to on-demand workers might look like, because we want to be a positive contributor to the discussion.”

It comes after competitor Menulog revealed it would trial employing its delivery drivers directly, in a move that will see the company attempt to employ its entire fleet of drivers under minimum rates of pay over the next few years.

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