Briefing Room

ECONOMY | LABOR

Delivery platform businesses deserve a more encouraging local policy environment

Key Insights

  • The accelerated growth of the country’s e-commerce industry, driven by consumers relying on platform-mediated deliveries and transactions during periodic lockdowns is a bright spot amidst the adverse economic effects of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Delivery platform businesses, both well-established ones, such as Grab or Food Panda, and newer industry participants have created jobs, supported the growth of micro and small enterprises, and sustained the operations of various commercial services. 
  • Delivery platform workers have however faced various challenges from their respective managements, customers, and local law enforcers in the performance of their jobs. 
  • Public policy especially at the local level remains fixed with regulating rather than incentivizing an emerging growth sector with wider social benefit spillovers. 

Essential deliveries

From the rice porridge (“lugaw”) food delivery partner who was stopped and verbally castigated by a village law enforcer for curfew violation to the partner riders suspended by their management for insulting the fanbase of a massively popular music group, including prank orders in between, delivery platform workers in the Philippines have faced a wide variety of challenges even as their services became highly sought amidst Covid-19 pandemic mobility and activity restrictions.

With both industry movers and government authorities recognizing the explosive growth of the sector that has facilitated and mediated the acceleration of the country’s e-commerce industry, encouraged micro-entrepreneurship, and provided livelihood for those who were displaced from their jobs because of the pandemic, platform workers and companies are at the frontline of Covid-19 economic recovery. 

And if responses to available market surveys which show that a majority of Filipino consumers are likely to carry their pandemic-developed preference for online purchases and deliveries even when restrictions are eased, sustaining and expanding the sector’s current growth necessitates settling or at least beginning to take a more perspectival view of emergent issues and challenges before these become avenues for future social and political polarization. 

 

Debating deliverables

At the level of national policy, debates over the status of delivery platform workers – whether they are independent contractors or employees – are likely to persist in the wake of a Labor Advisory issued by the Department of Labor and Employment in July this year that a number of activist labor groups have criticized for being allegedly useless

Given the labor department’s delicate role in balancing workers’ grievances and promoting a policy climate conducive for growth and economic recovery, a more unequivocal statement may not be forthcoming in the short-term, with specific issues and controversies between parties more likely to be tackled in administrative and lower-level arbitration forums. 

The policy space should, however, encourage delivery platform companies to strengthen efforts that would insulate riders from the draw of ideologically motivated groups seeking to infiltrate a still loosely organized livelihood generating and empowering sector. Partnerships with non-profits, local governments, merchants, and enabling or complementary industries that build communities among riders and promote livelihood opportunities in localities as well as on a nationwide scale are key deliverables from the platform company’s end in this regard. 

 

A more immediate and palpable concern, however, are continuing reports and anecdotes of riders facing varying degrees and forms of harassment or at least, unnecessary inconveniences from local law enforcers. 

While rapidly evolving restrictions and guidelines may be expected because of the pandemic, heavy-handed and sometimes arbitrary enforcement mechanisms targeting delivery riders or in a number of instances, their customers picking-up orders or purchases have been reported. Although those who clearly violate applicable guidelines must be held accountable, a more appropriate, uniformed, and equally applied system of penalties should be more bearable for the already stretched spirits of the country’s workforce (and their respective employers for that matter). This should include a more coordinate approach among local governments traversed by delivery routes. 

Outside formal state-level issues, riders and delivery platform companies have also had to contend with malicious “prank” orders played by customers and private subdivisions charging fees before allowing delivery riders inside their premises.

 

Delivering the essentials

While the issues identified here may be more authoritatively resolved by national government policymaking bodies, concerns regarding the physical safety, security, and well-being of delivery platform riders as well as safeguards against unnecessary revenue losses on the part of platform companies may be immediately and pro-actively addressed at the local government level. 

For supporting thriving local enterprises, absorbing displaced workers, and promoting commercial and business activity even during lockdowns, local government owe delivery platform riders and companies a better policy environment. 

And although regulatory and enforcement mechanisms – especially over criminal or prohibited acts committed against riders and their companies – are helpful, a more incentive-based, community capacitating kind of support is better. 

Key to this strategy are local government policies that enable soft-skill capacities among platform riders and support the holistic growth of the industry within its immediate community environment (such building gender-sensitive customer relations or consciousness among riders or deepening awareness of consumer rights and obligations among local residents). 

The labor department’s order mandating local governments to establish parking or waiting areas for riders should only be the minimum that local governments can do. 


The Center for Local Innovation and Capacity Development (CLICDPH, Inc.) provides advocacy activating services that can enhance the presence of platform companies in local governments. We would be happy to discuss how we think local decision makers may be best engaged. Reach out to us through [email protected] 

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