Ride-hailers hesitant to offer financial support

March 17, 2020 | 11:00
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While ride-hailing apps are pushing out alerts to their drivers and partners to alleviate the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, financial support for their most exposed partners in Vietnam is almost non-existent, in stark contrast to their regional counterparts.
ride hailers hesitant to offer financial support
GoViet is being urged to follow in Grab’s footsteps to financially support at-risk drivers, Photo Le Toan

The ongoing health crisis is posing significant challenges to most countries, urging ride-hailing firms such as Grab and GoViet to urgently take responsibility and protect drivers and customers.

Aware of the risks that drivers are exposed to and might pose themselves, several ride-hailing companies have taken new measures.

South Korea’s biggest food delivery service, Baedal Minjok, which also penetrated Vietnam last year under the Baemin Vietnam name, will accommodate financial aid for its drivers if they are required to go into self-quarantine. For delivery riders who cannot work due to a suspected case of COVID-19, Baemin would pay the minimum wage of $673 for two weeks, according to newswire The Investor.

In Singapore, the government will grant a daily S$100 ($70) allowance during the 14 days that drivers have to be in quarantine due to the outbreak as part of country’s Special Relief Fund.

Meanwhile, riders who are members of the Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit of the National Trades Union Congress are eligible for a one-off allowance of S$200 ($140).

Drivers at GoJek – the parent firm of GoViet in Vietnam – could receive additional support of either up to $21-49 per week if they satisfy the firm’s special requirements, for instance at least 200 trips per month from October to December 2019.

Ride-hailing and food-delivery giant Grab also followed suit by offering its GrabFood riders a one-off amount between S$100-200 ($70-140) should they be quarantined or hospitalised during this time. The move comes after a similar financial relief measure was announced for taxi and privately-hired drivers in quarantine on February 1.

Last week, Grab temporarily suspended its offices in Singapore and Thailand for five days after one of its Singapore-based employees had been diagnosed with the COVID-19. The temporary closure came as a precautionary measure to contain the contagion and proved the firm would act seriously to guarantee their staff’s health.

However, drivers who are most exposed to the virus work as independent contractors. Through the nature of their job, they could be in very close proximity to someone who has been infected, then spread the virus by going around town.

In Vietnam, GoViet has yet to launch any specific support packages for drivers. However, the firm is actively monitoring the situation and introducing some initiatives to protect the health and safety of drivers. Nguyen Tri Anh, communications manager of GoViet, told VIR that his company stays committed to looking after the health and safety of their drivers and to keeping cities moving forward during this time. “We have taken a multi-channel approach to raising our drivers’ awareness and prevention efforts through in-app notifications and official fan pages and communities, on- and offline,” he said.

“This includes educating drivers on the importance of wearing face masks properly and urging them to do so. Moreover, we remind them to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser, in line with guidance from authorities. We also instructed our drivers to prepare hand sanitisers at home,” Anh added.

Grab has launched a fund of VND3 billion ($128,860) to provide support to its drivers. As such, each one can receive an allowance of VND1 million ($43.4) if they test positive for COVID-19. As of present, Grab is the only ride-hailing firm providing financial support to drivers affected by the virus. Furthermore, Grab has implemented a number of measures as concerted efforts to avoid the threat the virus poses. The ride-hailing firm has granted 100,000 face masks to the Ministry of Health and delivered vast amounts of the ministry’s own masks to 33 health centres in seven northern provinces. Grab offered 30,000 safety packages including gloves and hand sanitiser to its drivers.

Similarly, ride-hailing app be has launched the beClean campaign to promote safety in the midst of the outbreak. Specifically, it provided tens of thousands of packages comprising of face masks, hand sanitiser, and multivitamins to its drivers. be also granted 2,000 healthcare insurance packages worth VND350 million ($15,000) each for 2,000 taxi drivers.

Elsewhere, food delivery service Beamin has also taken some precautions of its own, such as providing hand sanitisers at its offices and the distribution of face masks to its drivers. The firm launched online campaigns to raise drivers’ awareness on how to protect themselves from the virus.

Beamin also manages a Facebook group and a blog to help drivers maneuvre the current situation better. In contrast to its parent company in South Korea, Beamin Vietnam has yet to proffer any significant financial support to Vietnamese drivers in case they are infected by the novel coronavirus.

Despite valuable support from some companies, the pandemic is highlighting concerns regarding the question of how much health benefits and paid sick time are enough for independent contractors.Notwithstanding, as independent contractors, most do not receive paid time off, which would allow them to stop working if they were to experience any symptoms.

One driver told VIR, “I know travelling back and forth could result in putting myself and others at risk, but I cannot afford to take time off. I could not provide for myself and my family if I were to stop driving. To be honest, compensation after being in quarantine might even come too late.”

By Van Huong

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