“Kailangan mo talagang gawin kahit delikado”: Labor issues beset courier riders amid pandemic

“Frontline worker” used to only invoke images of healthcare personnel in full protective suits. But the COVID-19 pandemic has also pushed workers from other industries into the frontlines.

Among them are courier riders for logistics services like Grab, which saw a 70% increase in revenue in 2020 as lockdown restrictions kept people indoors. The Department of Trade and Industry also saw 73,000 new online businesses that year, driving profits for logistics companies who bring products to customers.

But while their companies prospered during the pandemic, the same cannot be said about those who do the delivery. For courier riders who face COVID-19, braving the risks is not a mere option, but a choice they must do to ensure their family’s survival.

When at work

Mondays signal the start of the courier riders’ six-day grind.

4 a.m. Charlie Tunandao, a delivery rider at express service Abest for four years, unlocks the doors of the central Las Piñas hub. He sorts the parcels from the last working day and updates the company’s package tracking system.

8 a.m. He delivers and picks up packages from his assigned areas in the city. Meanwhile, Jervic Malubay, a Ninjavan rider of three years, starts traveling to work by motorcycle.

Jervic comes from Bacoor, Cavite, just outside Metro Manila. In the first days of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) last year, he recalled lining up in long queues of motorists to pass through the region’s health screening checkpoints. He added that unstable area restrictions like these add hurdles to his drive as different regions require different requirements.

9 a.m. Jervic starts his daily collection of  parcels from Las Piñas and Parañaque shippers. Sometimes, clients would offer him a tip or drink, while others shy away from the slightest interaction with him, in fear of contracting COVID-19. Jeff, a Lalamove rider who requested to hide his identity for job security purposes, hits the road at this hour.

12 n.n. The riders pause to enjoy lunch at a nearby karinderya. Their meal expenses come from the small income they get daily. Their employers only reimburse gasoline expenses.

2 p.m. Charlie and Jervic return to their hubs in Las Piñas and Parañaque respectively and resume their deliveries.

3 p.m. The two riders get off work for the rest of the day, having dispatched 30 to 70 packages. Sometimes they stay for an hour or two when their co-workers need help sorting parcels.

6 p.m. Jeff stops taking orders from Lalamove and calls it a day after earning at least P600. By this time, he would have completed at least eight deliveries, sometimes less. 

This is how the courier riders typically spend their days at work. Almost by muscle memory, the riders have become experts in navigating routes, tracking parcels and appeasing customers who often trouble them with complaints about problems that are out of their control.

Despite logistics industries having improved their operations more than a year into the pandemic, their riders barely manage to sustain their basic needs.

More than a year into the pandemic, logistics industries have improved their operations by banking on the growing delivery transport market. Still, the first ECQ in 2020 forced some logistics providers were forced to trim down to a skeletal workforce, leaving the riders to fend on their own.

“Lahat [ng pera] puro palabas. Wala namang [papasok],” Charlie told TNP.

Because courier riders are contractual laborers, they would receive no pay if they don’t show up for work. Charlie believes riders like him are detachable pieces of the machinery that can be removed if costs become unmanageable.

This is what Jeff had to experience in May 2021, coming face-to-face with what many contractual workers fear: a layoff. Ninjavan reduced workers that year because their decreased revenue could no longer keep up with labor costs. This drove Jeff to apply for Lalamove a few weeks later.

Nadismaya lang din kasi ako na hindi nila sinabi sa akin na ako ay natanggal. Maganda ‘yong performance ko kasi. Hindi ako pala-absent; hindi ako mareklamo,” Jeff said. 

On top of their already stressful trips, disrespectful customers also become a burden. Videos of unkind buyers often make rounds in social media, some cursing with demeaning remarks over unavoidable logistic difficulties, or confiscating motorcycle keys

“Iba-iba talaga mga ugali ng tao. Mayro’n talagang hindi makaintindi,” Jeff lamented. 

But the three riders said their only response to this kind of conflict has to be humility, noting else. They told TNP they would rather not engage in word wars with clients and receive negative feedback that may cost them their jobs.

They know it’s easier for consumers to believe they are always on the receiving end of the hassle of delayed deliveries. But with the harsh realities experienced by the riders, the delay isn’t the biggest inconvenience there is.

A breadwinner’s struggle

The riders might be nameless to their clients, but they are the foundations of their households. When asked about their source of strength, Charlie, Jervic and Jeff said they always sought it from their loved ones.

Alam nating delikado [na ngayon], pero syempre, para nga sa pamilya, kailangan mo talagang gawin kahit delikado,” Jeff said. Sapat naman [‘yong income], syempre kung masipag ka. Minsan may mga rider na inaabot ng gabing-gabi para makaipon lang,” he added.

Jeff delivers clothes as his side job, which has also helped support his family. Similarly, Jervic sidelines a decade-old family business to sustain his child’s education.

May anak po ako. Nag-aaral na rin po ‘yong anak ko, kaya kailangan ko rin po ng double income,” he said.

Even with the riders overworking themselves, they remain in deep waters with their financial struggles. Ninjavan offers an overtime pay of P82 per hour, while Abest does not offer anything at all to workers who labor beyond the schedule.

When their perseverance is exchanged with little to no compensation, the riders say their hard work will never be enough. 

“’Pag late ka, kaltas ka. Pero ‘pag sumobra ka sa oras, charity. Kaya kung anong oras kami mag-out, out talaga, kasi wala namang bayad ‘yong overtime,” Charlie said.

While the two companies provide insurance for COVID-19, Lalamove leaves their riders to fend for themselves. The company also gives cloth masks, which is not as effective as disposable ones.

For Jervic, the virus is here to stay. To him, the COVID-19 pandemic appears to have no end in sight for the vaccine laggard Philippines.

Parang kasama na sa buhay ng tao ‘tong [pandemic] ngayon eh. Hindi naman sa natatakot, pero parang wala na ‘tong virus na ‘to [para sa akin],” he said.

The Philippines is beset with the emergence of new COVID-19 variants that drive record-breaking surges. Still, Charlie, Jervic and Jeff attest that safety during a health crisis is indeed a privilege they could not afford.

Sa rider kasi, gano’n talaga ang labanan. Tinapangan na lang ang sarili. Kung magpapadala ka sa pag-iingat, ‘di lalabas, walang mangyayari sa buhay mo,” Charlie said.

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