Singapore’s Food Delivery Riders: Who’s Fighting for Them, Really?

grab riders

When Circuit Breaker kicked in on 7 April 2020, the rules were fairly straightforward with regard to dining in: we couldn’t dine in. Everything from fine-dining restaurants and hawker centres to cafes and bubble tea stores were strictly limited to deliveries and takeaways only. While this posed at least some inconvenience for everyday Singaporeans like you and me, there was a marked increase in signups to become food delivery riders. But while food deliveries have shot up, it appears that our riders have not been reaping the benefits…

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has been working with several associations to address unique issues faced by food delivery riders, as well as provide the necessary support to help them tide through this challenging time. Here is a look at what some of these efforts were, and of course, the remaining work that needs to be done as the sector grows. 

Helping food delivery riders take a breather

A ban on dining in during Circuit Breaker and certain Heightened Alert phases meant that some drivers would take their meals in their own cars — but food delivery riders? They too, need to eat. Since dining in was forbidden during the Circuit Breaker period, what options, then, were left? Many, at least in the beginning, had to resort to stairwells of HDB blocks to consume their takeaway meals, all while fending off curious, sometimes accusing stares! While certain shopping malls did set aside designated areas for food delivery riders to eat in peace, more were certainly needed. 

Yeo Wan Ling
During the P2HA phase, many were worried about where they can have their meals safely. The NDCA spearheaded initiatives to provide essential workers with proper rest areas. Source

Fortunately, by May 2021, NTUC worked with various organisations, such as the National Association (NTA), the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA) and the National Delivery Champions Association (NDCA), to set aside various venues across Singapore for essential workers to take a break and consume their meals. A small gesture, but it went a long way in supporting these workers!

A little financial aid along the way

Even before Circuit Breaker became a reality, the Ministry of Manpower introduced the Self-Employed Person (SEP) Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) to support eligible self-employed workers, including food delivery riders. These workers received three quarterly cash payouts of S$3,000 each in May, July and October 2020. NTUC, too, stepped in to process the applications. By December 2020, there were nearly 200,000 beneficiaries and about S$1.8 billion disbursed. 

NTUC’s Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit (FSE U) also collaborated with NPHVA and NDCA to launch the NTUC U FSE Relief Scheme in June 2021. The purpose was to help groups of drivers and riders who require additional financial assistance, but do not qualify for the COVID-19 Driver Relief Fund.

This was particularly critical for food delivery riders. For example, some food delivery riders use petrol or petrol-hybrid vehicles to perform their deliveries. These delivery riders, then, were particularly impacted during the recent petrol duty rate increase. Members of the NDCA, then, were able to apply for up to S$650 in cash relief.

Preparatory workshops before mandatory theory tests

Did you know that bicycles, e-bikes and e-scooters need to be equipped with a red light or reflector in the back and a white headlight in the front? Also, did you know that you only need to turn them on after 7PM and before 7AM every day? These are just some of the many traffic rules that not many bicycle, e-bike and e-scooter owners know about, which is why the government made it mandatory for food delivery riders, particularly those who ride e-bikes and e-scooters, to take the Mandatory Theory Test before they hit the road.

However, let’s face it: who likes to go for classes? Instead of having these food delivery riders make special trips down to take a series of theory classes, NDCA initiated a virtual preparatory workshop to help riders better understand road safety and traffic law before taking the actual test. The idea was to make the entire process as easy and convenient as possible. 

Just recently, NDCA also organised the Mandatory Theory Test (MTT) Preparatory Workshop for Power-Assisted Bicycles (PAB) in Mandarin. This run helped some of our delivery riders, who are stronger in Mandarin, to understand the rules and build their confidence to pass the test.  

When the Mandatory Theory Test was announced in June, the Land Authority rolled out a discounted fee of $5.35 for two test attempts from 30 June to 30 September 2021 to encourage more riders to take the test sooner. Unfortunately since the rollout, the COVID-19 situation has evolved and the workshop had to be online instead of a physical session. NDCA shared delivery riders’ concerns with LTA and asked for an extension of the discounted fee period as this would allow riders more time to prepare for and pass the Mandatory Theory Test. This is part of their continued efforts to support our rider-members so that they are better equipped to pass the test and have peace of mind going about their work.

NDCA supporting riders through holding Mandatory Theory Test (MTT) Preparatory Workshops

Provide upskilling opportunities

Even if you are a food delivery rider who doesn’t necessarily want to be a food delivery rider any longer, there are ways to help you make that career transition. Of course, a career switch is much easier said than done. Aside from figuring out what exactly you want to do in life, there are costs to be considered — and not everybody can afford it.

That is why, in July 2020, NTUC set up the Union Assistance Programme (UTAP) for its members to help offset the cost of upskill training. And since there are more than 5,300 courses to choose from, there is very likely one out there to prepare you for the career switch. 

The work goes on

The work of a food delivery rider is a relatively new profession in Singapore’s landscape, and rules and regulations are still evolving as we speak. 

For example, since food delivery riders do not have employment contracts with the respective online platforms and are not covered under the Employment Act, they are not eligible for basic protections, such as workplace injury compensation and personal accident insurance. Furthermore, employers do not have to contribute to food delivery riders’ Central Provident Fund. These are just some of the grey areas that NTUC and its partnering associations are trying to work out.

In the meantime, it is critical for food delivery platform operators to work together to improve work terms and conditions, work safety, as well as medical and injury coverage for food delivery riders and gig workers. These workers have been helping to keep Singapore moving during the pandemic. The least we can do, then, is to afford them the rights and benefits that they very much deserve. 


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