Deliveroo riders have elected their own safety representatives in a ‘milestone’ for the gig economy, following a string of deaths

Deliveroo riders hold a vigil after a car accident claimed another life. (Niall Carson, PA Images via Getty Images)

Deliveroo riders have elected their first worker safety representatives, in a milestone for the gig economy at a time when rider deaths have attracted concern.

Riders at food delivery company Deliveroo elected seven health and safety representativesfrom their Sydney ranks shortly before Christmas, with powers to issue emergency stop work directions, improvement notices over breaches and seek consultation on safety matters.

The representatives will speak for workers from four regions in Sydney and be paid by Deliveroo for their time dealing with safety concerns.

The elections follow the deaths of five riders between September and October and come as the NSW government is considering workers’ compensation regulation for gig companies.

Deliveroo already hand-picked riders in 2019 to be part of an Australia-first national safety panel to advise it on riders’ concerns.

However, the Transport Workers Union accused the company of excluding activist riders from the panel and demanded elected representatives in line with workplace safety regulation.

The union, on behalf of six riders, also pushed to get Deliveroo to have specific local safety representatives in Sydney, reporting the company to SafeWork and taking it to the workplace tribunal.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said elected health and safety representatives were “commonplace at most workplaces” but “a milestone for the gig economy in Australia”.

“This is an important step towards holding these companies to account for ensuring a safe working environment,” he said.

Push into other states

“We still have legal proceedings continuing over their refusal to implement these laws fully but now Deliveroo riders have representatives to turn to when they need assistance on keeping safe.”

The union is expected to push the elected-representative model for gig companies in other states with the exception of Victoria, where health and safety representative elections only cover employees not independent contractors.

A spokesman for Deliveroo said the company was “the first to establish a national rider safety panel, giving riders a voice within the company to raise safety issues” and “proactively works with our riders to identify areas of improvement”.

However, it accused the union of delaying the elections by more than a year.

“We received feedback from our riders in Sydney that they would like to set up a system of rider safety representatives,” the spokesman said.

“We took action as it is important to us that we do the right thing by our riders.

“It is unfortunate that the TWU has delayed this process. We now look forward to working closely with the elected representatives to take feedback and resolve any concerns.”

The NSW Industrial Relations Commission backed Deliveroo’s proposal late last year that its Sydney representatives should be elected in four regions, central, north, south and west, and be divided based on whether riders use a bicycle, motorcycle or car.

TWU’s proposed structure rejected

The commission rejected the TWU’s proposed structure, involving five concentrated areas in Sydney, because it would have excluded 28 out of the 43 zones in the region. The union is appealing the decision.

More than 150 riders voted in the elections, while selections for two working groups where riders opted to run the election themselves are still in progress.

In an email to riders, Deliveroo said “HSRs play an important role in gathering information about health and safety issues and facilitating a safe working environment for other Deliveroo riders”.

“If you have any concerns or recommendations on the ways that we can continue to address rider safety then we encourage you to reach out to your HSR. We will work with your elected HSRs to take on board your feedback and resolve any issues.”

This story first appeared in The Australian Financial Review. Read it here or follow the Financial Review on Facebook.