“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 locked 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 delivering.
When at work
Mondays signal the start of Charlie, Jervic and Jeff’s six-day grind.
4 a.m. Charlie, 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 package tracking system.
8 a.m. He delivers and picks up packages from his assigned areas in the city. Meanwhile, Jervic, 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 adds 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, 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, who withheld their identity for job security purposes, typically spend their days at work.
Despite logistics industries having improved their operations more than a year into the pandemic, their riders barely manage to sustain their basic needs. Some logistics providers have trimmed down to a skeleton workforce since the first ECQ in 2020.
“Lahat [ng pera] puro palabas. Wala namang [papasok],” Charlie told TNP.
Courier riders like him are contractual workers whom companies believe they can easily expend. If riders do not show up for work, they receive no pay. While others make do with limited benefits, employers can cut them off once their profits plummet.
This is what Jeff had to face in May 2021. He confronted what many contractual workers fear – a layoff. Ninjavan reduced workers 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 run, disrespectful customers are also a burden. Videos of unkind customers often make rounds in social media, as some would give demeaning remarks over unavoidable logistic difficulties, or go as far as confiscating motorcycle keys.
“Iba-iba talaga mga ugali ng tao. Mayro’n talagang hindi makaintindi,” he said.
But the three riders’ response to this kind of conflict would be humility. They told TNP they would rather not engage in word wars with clients and receive negative feedback that may cost them their job.
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 lifeline 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 balances 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. When their labor is exchanged with little to no compensation, their hard work will never be enough.
Ninjavan offers an overtime pay of P82 per hour, while Abest does not offer anything at all.
“’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, Lalamove leaves their riders to fend for themselves. Lalamove also only gives cloth masks, which is not as effective as the disposable ones.
The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have no end in sight for the vaccine laggard Philippines, and Jervic has accepted that the virus is here to stay.
“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, unfortunately, is pushing to revert to normal when nothing is. As a result, Metro Manila has once again escalated to enhanced community quarantine in August. With the emergence of new COVID-19 variants and the limited vaccine supply to combat this, herd immunity becomes harder to achieve.
Charlie, Jervic and Jeff all 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.