Taiwan’s delivery drivers vowed to unionize by the end of the month in protest of the decision by Foodpanda and UberEats to implement a new mechanism of payroll calculation, which they say would reduce their pay.

On Tuesday, a group of Foodpanda, UberEats, Lalamove, and GOGOX workers from around Taiwan gathered in front of the Ministry of Labor building in Taipei, demanding that the government take action to protect labor rights. They also called on fellow workers to join the union, holding a banner that read, “An arbitrary salary cut, delivery workers unionize!”

Su Bo-hao, spokesperson for the proposed National Delivery Union, said food delivery platforms have adjusted their payment methodology several times over the past two years, but the result is “always a drop in wages, never an increase.”

Su also criticized the lack of transparency in the process of paycheck calculations. “Even if they miscalculate, you don’t know where it’s gone wrong,” he said, adding that workers often find it difficult to report an issue to the companies.

Chairman Yu-An Chen said at the gathering that he has been working as a food delivery driver for more than two years, but companies didn’t always notify him of changes in their rules.

What happened?

Foodpanda started implementing a new method of payroll calculation on April 16 across Taiwan, after a one-month trial in Taichung and neighboring counties. Chen, a delivery worker in Taichung, said his wage declined in March, despite more fulfilled orders and longer working hours.

A worker’s pay used to be based on the number of orders they fulfill, but the new policy takes driving distance into consideration, Foodpanda said. A delivery driver earns more from each delivery the more distance they travel to fulfill an order.

“If a worker’s pay decreases, it may be that they tend to opt for orders that require short-distance traveling,” a spokesperson for Foodpanda said. “But then no one would fulfill the orders by customers living faraway from the city.”

The company said that nearly 60% of its delivery workers consider the new policy to help allocate their wage more fairly, based on a survey conducted in late March after the trial in central Taiwan.

UberEats put forward a similar policy on April 12 after a trial in Taoyuan, Hsinchu, and Miaoli, but Foodpanda denied taking “concerted action” with its competitors. UberEats hasn’t replied to The News Lens at the time of publication.

In an announcement to workers, UberEats said the new method takes into account delivery time, distance, and the number of restaurants and delivery points in the route that a worker takes to fulfill an order. The platform believes it will “more accurately reflect the time it takes for each delivery.”

Foodpanda and UberEats are the most popular food delivery services in Taiwan. A survey by the Market Intelligence & Consulting Institute shows that around 80% and 60% food delivery customers have used these two platforms during the first half of 2020.


Photo Credit: CNA

Food delivery workers gathered in front of the Ministry of Labor building, April 20, Taipei, Taiwan.

Foodpanda’s spokesperson said they “support the union,” but said some delivery workers could have misunderstood the policy terms. “Foodpanda will enhance communication and promotion to guarantee the rights of the couriers working with us.”

Su expects workers, once unionized, to be able to directly negotiate their wage with the platforms. “It’s similar to how a union for cab drivers works,” he said. “The company negotiates with the union and presents the result to be confirmed by the Ministry of Transportation.”

He also demanded the amount for accident insurance be raised to at least NT$100,000. Food delivery workers are currently allowed to file an insurance claim of up to NT$30,000 for medical bills incurred by work-related injuries. “After all, if you break a bone in a car accident, that can cost you NT$50,000 to 90,000.”

The Ministry of Labor said in a statement on Tuesday that it “looks with favor” on the unionizing effort and urged food delivery companies to communicate actively with the new organization “to reach a win-win situation.” The Legislative Yuan is currently reviewing a draft bill by the ministry to expand insurance coverage for food couriers.

A gray area

As of last October, there are more than 80,000 delivery drivers working for a variety of platforms across Taiwan, according to statistics by the Ministry of Labor. Foodpanda and UberEats account for around half the workforce, though some work for multiple platforms at the same time.

Lee Chien-hung, Professor of Labor and Human Resources at Taipei’s Chinese Culture University, told The News Lens the root cause of the labor struggle lies in that Taiwan’s labor law hasn’t covered the gray area between employees and independent contractors.

In October 2019, the deaths of two gig workers in car crashes galvanized a series of labor inspections, which resulted in the government defining these workers as employees due to the level of monitoring and management at work via a mobile application. Companies are obliged by current regulations to pay minimum wage and offer other labor benefits to employees.

But the decision doesn’t represent a broad recognition of food couriers as formal employees. In response, Lee said most companies have since also modified their contract with drivers, allowing them to work for more than one platform to prevent having anyone designated as an employee. Now, it’s still left to the government or courts to decide if a worker falls in either category when a dispute occurs.

“The recent change in rule by these food delivery companies has had different consequences on workers,” Lee explained. “If food couriers work for different platforms at the same time, they have the option to ditch the one that modifies the rule, but this is not the case for those working only for a single platform.”

He believes food delivery workers should be given partial protection as a “semi-employee” if they earn a certain amount of income from a single company.

Chu Jin-long, an official at Occupational Safety and Health Administration under the Ministry of Labor, said the government now has largely focused on ensuring food delivery companies have insured their gig workers, rather than trying to clarify their employment status.

Becoming an employee entails a limitation on work hours, which workers might wish to avoid, and the change in contract makes it difficult for the government to recognize them as employees, he explained.

Su, the spokesperson for the proposed union, urged the government to enact a special law to protect non-standard workers like gig drivers. “The two main types of employment status don’t apply to emerging industries in contemporary society anymore,” he said.

The union is likely to increase pressure for the government to solve the longstanding problem in the food delivery sector, with participation from workers from Taipei, Taichung, Kaohsiung, to Taitung. “The success of our effort requires that all delivery workers across Taiwan unite,” Su said.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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