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Workers in Malaysia’s gig economy feel the heat

/ 12:59 PM October 10, 2019

A glass on a pederstrian bridge reflects vehicles travelling on a road in central Kuala Lumpur on December 3, 2018.  AFP FILE PHOTO

PUTRAJAYA — Some Malaysians may have to wait longer for ride-hailing cars and food to arrive at their doorstep.

Stricter rules on private-hire cars, or e-hailing cars as they are called in Malaysia, and protests against Foodpanda by some riders and customers have sent shock waves through the country’s gig economy.

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The government, in a bid to raise safety standards, wants all drivers of e-hailing companies to undergo written examinations on traffic laws, and health checks.

They also have to change the status of their vehicles from individual private vehicles to e-hailing private ones in order to obtain e-hailing vehicle permits before the deadline this Saturday.

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There are some 167,000 e-hailing drivers in Malaysia, but 22 percent of Grab drivers have quit to avoid complying with the stricter rules.

Grab, the biggest player in a market of 31 e-hailing firms, warned customers yesterday that they may have to wait longer for their ride, especially during peak hours, after the deadline. Passengers now wait an average of six minutes for a ride.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke yesterday assured the e-hailing industry that it will be given time to comply with new rules, with no disruption to the system.

Malaysia E-Hailing Drivers Association president Daryl Chong told The Straits Times: “We are very glad that there will not be any disruption to the system.”

Meanwhile, dozens of riders for food delivery company Foodpanda are protesting against a new payment scheme that they claim would lower overall wages. The change affects riders working outside the Klang Valley.

The company now pays those riders based on the number of deliveries made. Under the previous scheme, they were paid an hourly rate plus extra earnings based on deliveries made.

But payment per order has been raised to between RM4.50 and RM7 (between S$1.50 and S$2.30) from between RM3 and RM5 previously.

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The young riders’ complaints have been amplified by Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, who met the protesting group last week.

Foodpanda has some 13,000 riders nationwide. Some users have begun a boycott, claiming the company is being unfair.

In response, Foodpanda Malaysia managing director Sayantan Das said on Monday that initial data shows more riders actually earn more under the new scheme, which kicked in on Sept 30.

The turmoil in the gig system reflects how the country as a whole is adjusting to the new ways of getting a cab and ordering food.

Observers wonder if the gig economy faces an impending bubble.

But government MP Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad said: “It is important – and possible – for workers in the so-called gig economy to be paid living wages while such firms continue to thrive. All parties should realise that keeping wages low does nobody any good in the long run. Malaysian workers’ pay still lags behind other benchmark economies.”

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