Hungry Panda riders protest over pay cut, sacked workers & gag threat as NSW Taskforce releases ‘guidelines’ on rider safety

Hungry Panda riders will protest at noon over unsustainable pay cuts imposed without consultation, over the sacking of a rider for raising concerns about the pay cut, and over the company’s attempt to gag the protest by threatening to stop implementation of a new insurance policy for riders if the riders go ahead with the strike.

TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine says, “Hungry Panda is treating its workers like modern day slaves, slashing pay at a whim and sacking workers for raising legitimate concerns. Hungry Panda workers are struggling to make ends meet and dying on the job and the company’s response so far has been to sack workers who put their hands up, evade calls to attend a parliamentary inquest with flimsy excuses and attempt to gag workers protesting such reprehensible behaviour. It’s time for Federal and State governments to get their heads out of the sand – this is not some shiny new economy, its old fashioned exploitation via an app and work systems designed to push workers outside laws which are hopelessly out of date.”

The protest occurs on the same day the NSW Government Taskforce has handed down ‘guidelines’ for food delivery companies, which the TWU will look into further. The Taskforce claims the guidelines will outline WHS obligations following an investigation into four food delivery riders killed in two months in Sydney last year.

The TWU supports government attention on the safety crisis in food delivery but warns that without government intervention there is nothing to stop companies like Uber crafting their business models around circumventing the law.

“Light touch guidelines are unlikely to pose a threat to companies who have expertly honed their ability to evade hundred-year-old workplace laws. When Federal Court judges savaged Uber’s business model, the company adjusted its contract with workers to attempt to distance itself further from legal responsibilities. Uber will keep playing this game until direct government intervention puts a stop to it. We need a tribunal standing guard to examine evolving work arrangements and ensure safe minimum standards for all workers,” said Kaine.

Last week Hungry Panda riders received a message stating that their pay had changed, followed by a significant drop in their wages. Food delivery rider James Yang was sacked on Tuesday following a strike he held in Burwood over the slashed pay.

On Friday Hungry Panda refused to reverse the pay cut and hinged an insurance policy for riders on the protest being called off. A Hungry Panda representative told the TWU: “We intend to proceed with arranging and putting in place the group insurance policy subject to your confirmation that no further action will be taken.”

In November, weeks after Hungry Panda rider Xiaojun Chen was killed and his family left with no income and no compensation, Hungry Panda failed to show up for its slot at the NSW Government inquiry into the gig economy. The company later blamed their no-show on riders turning up to their office with questions.

Michael Kaine says Hungry Panda’s behaviour over the last week proves that government intervention must come with enforceable minimum standards that address the inextricable link between low pay, unrealistic time pressures and associated safety risks.

“James Yang is a hardworking father just trying to provide for his four kids. Last week his pay plummeted with no warning, no consultation and no chance to negotiate. Hungry Panda is hellbent on pushing ahead with the pay cut which would have seen James lose around $500 a week. When James exercised what little power he had and withdrew his labour in protest, Hungry Panda responded harshly and unjustly, opting to remove his income all together.

“This is a clear-cut example of why we desperately need regulation and a tribunal to address the deadly pressure on riders. Four riders were killed in two months in Sydney last year while working for UberEats and Hungry Panda. In the last fortnight, both of those companies have forced riders onto shocking new terms that threaten their income, requiring them to work faster over longer hours to make ends meet.

“More riders are bravely taking action today in the face of Hungry Panda’s belligerence. Workers have the full backing of the TWU and NSW Shadow Minister of the Gig Economy Hon Daniel Mookhey, MLC, but riders can’t keep taking on these battles against wealthy companies and their selfish motives. We need the Federal Government to come through with a tribunal that will set minimum standards and protections for workers that cannot be evaded with the stroke of a red pen to a sham contract. Without this intervention more lives will be lost and more families left destitute,” Kaine said.

Hungry Panda’s pay cut came days after Uber sent its riders new terms and conditions including revoking pay if a customer complains, without giving riders right of reply. Riders from UberEats and other companies will join the protest today in support of Hungry Panda riders.

The TWU has previously alerted Hungry Panda to WHS breaches after the union investigated documentation following Xiaojun Chen’s death, which the company has ignored.

A Hungry Panda rider this week sent a letter to the company invoking rights under WHS legislation. The letter mirrors those sent by riders to Deliveroo which has since seen health and safety representatives elected.

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