Two years after a food delivery rider died after being hit by a bus while working for Hungry Panda, his family will now receive compensation after Slater and Gordon successfully pursued workers death benefit claims on their behalf.
Xiaojun Chen, 43, died while riding his motorbike in the Sydney suburb of Zetland on September 29, 2020. He is survived by his wife Lihong Wei, their two children and his 75-year- old father.
iCare workers’ compensation scheme insurance agent Employers Mutual Limited (EML) has this month agreed that Mr Chen was employed by HungryPanda when he died, meaning his family is now entitled to benefits.
Slater and Gordon Practice Group Leader Jasmina Mackovic described the outcome as ground- breaking.
“To our knowledge, this is the first case where there has been an admission that a gig economy driver has been considered a worker,” Ms Mackovic said.
“Gig economy workers and their families are usually denied any entitlements because they are considered independent contractors rather than employees, meaning they are unable to access workers’ compensation and other benefits such as annul leave and sick leave.
“This also means that workers or their families are not guaranteed loss of wages payments, medical payments or a lump sum for any impairment suffered if they are injured or ill, or even in the case of death as has happened here.”
Mr Chen’s widow, Lihong Wei, said the decision would bring “respect and recognition to all food delivery workers for the essential service they provide”.
Ms Wei said before her husband was killed, he planned to return to China so they could open a business together to take care of their extended family, whom he had been sending money home to support when he died.
“Now that dream will never be realised. The grief my children, their grandparents and myself feel cannot be put into words,” she said.
“My children miss their daddy every day. My daughter has begun struggling with school and my son has lost his father forever at just eight years’ old. My father in-law has lost his only son. Nothing can ever fix this.”
Ms Mackovic said acknowledgement of gig economy workers as employees was long overdue.
“Gig economy companies are avoiding their responsibilities to adequately protect the people who work for them, many of whom are migrant workers who are particularly vulnerable,” she said.
“We are only going to see more workers die and be injured on our roads with limited rights to compensation if something doesn’t change.”
The Transport Workers’ Union has long been campaigning for food delivery riders to have rights like minimum wages and workers’ compensation benefits, regardless of the label imposed on their jobs.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine welcomed the decision.
“After two long years, justice has finally been delivered for Xiaojun’s family,” he said.
“No family should have to experience the indescribable grief of losing a loved one at work. While no amount of compensation will truly heal the loss Xioajun’s family feels, this decision goes a long way towards righting a horrible wrong.”
He paid tribute to Ms Wei for the “incredible strength” she had shown in the fight to change the industry.
“She has bravely spoken truth to power, appearing before parliamentary committees and making the case publicly for immediate action to lift standards and protect riders and their families. The entire rider community stands with her,” he said.
“For too long, gig companies have been able to skirt the edges of our out-dated industrial relations law which divides workers into two camps: one which receives hard-won rights, and one which is not entitled to any basic protections. Denying workers’ rights has created an industry rife with underpayment, extraordinary pressure, injuries and death.
“The Albanese Government has committed to action and must move urgently to lift standards and protect workers. Empowering an independent body to set enforceable standards for all workers regardless of their label will strike at the heart of the exploitation making food delivery so deadly.”