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Upskilling Riders for the Future of Gig Economy [OPINION]

Upskilling Riders for the Future of Gig Economy [OPINION]

The pandemic has given ‘gig workers’ a great deal of visibility.

Khairil Ahmad
Head of Public & Government Affairs, foodpanda Malaysia

According to the Ministry of Finance’s Economic Outlook for the year 2021, the gig economy is expected to be the dominant contributor to the national workforce with a projected 40 percent increase in comparison with the current global average of 20 percent.

Given the public attention the gig economy has received in the last couple of years, the Government has recognized its significance and in turn is looking into implementing new policies to look over the welfare of this particular segment, as the trigger point for this scrutiny of the ‘gig economy’ lies in the lack of a ‘safety net’.

The pandemic has given ‘gig workers’ a great deal of visibility, particularly food delivery riders and those within the informal sector as well as the Government, via various initiatives and support shown throughout the year which has proactively looked into the support and promotion of the welfare of these gig workers.

However, at foodpanda we believe that a more holistic approach should include three key thrusts, i.e. Welfare, Financial and Education. This is exactly why we are developing ‘panda purpose’, as a vehicle set to empower our rider partners.

Riders Welfare

Delivery riders are active front-liners in our fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and they need to be protected from the risk of contracting the virus in their line of duty. Since April this year, we have provided our active riders with free Covid-19 Insurance through the panda purpose program. Riders who are tested positive for Covid-19 will also receive a RM1,000 relief aid. These benefits, we believe, are necessary to provide our riders the peace of mind at work.

When it comes to delivery riders, road safety and accident coverage is crucial, thus issues regarding insurance coverage in accidents for our riders have also been one of our priorities to address. We have taken the initiative to insure each of our active riders with 24 hours insurance coverage of up to RM20,000. More than RM200,000 have also been contributed to SOSCO on behalf of more than 2,400 foodpanda riders under the Self-Employment Social Security Scheme (SESSS).

As a company, we recognise that our rider partners play an essential role within the foodpanda ecosystem. Like many other delivery services, our riders have physically-demanding roles that keep the system going, hence the necessary protection and security provided for them.

Financial Awareness

The lack of financial awareness and education by gig workers inadvertently lends credence to the ‘lack of safety net’ narrative that we often see today. However, it’s also arguable that a lack of safety net could stem from a lack of financial awareness.

For example, a white collared freelancer who offers consultancy services may lack social safety but, in all likelihood, has invested a portion of their earnings into retirement, and other forms of products. Nonetheless, whilst it is farcical to compare a ‘white collared’ freelancer against a ‘blue collared’ worker in an informal sector, the same line of argument can be extended.

‘What if a ‘gig worker’ has enough financial knowledge, literacy, and awareness? Should the onus of responsibility then shift to the gig worker?’

The lack of financial literacy among our rider partners is then something we should look into.panda purpose aims to address this by partnering up with fintech companies, financial planners and institutions to help our rider partners build basic financial literacy for future planning and investments – something we find crucial for any individual.

Education in Upskilling and Reskilling

In a study conducted by ‘The Centre’, it was quoted that ‘Reskilling, upskilling and cross-skilling have become popular policy buzzwords in Malaysia, promising a path out of low-skilled and low-wage jobs’.The need for reskilling has become even more critical with Malaysia’s stated drive to automate and digitalize the nation’s economic sectors and firms.

The Government has recognized the importance of reskilling and upskilling, and this was reflected in the recent Budget 2021 announcement with a RM19b allocation. However, we must take cognisance of the sufficiency of these reskilling and upskilling courses, and ascertain whether these programs are not ‘syok sendiri’ initiatives churned out by those in the corridors of power.

It is within this space that foodpanda Malaysia is collaborating with key Government agencies to explore the viability of these reskilling and upskilling programs and with panda purpose, we hope that foodpanda Malaysia is able to carve a path out of being a blue collared worker to a white collared role, either within foodpanda’s own ecosystem or even act as a funnel for the industry.

As highlighted by ‘The Centre’ in its article dated 11th November 2020 entitled ‘Can Everyone Really Reskill Themselves?’,a crucial point was put forth – whether Malaysia’s extensive skills development ecosystem is accessible for the Government’s intended target?

panda purpose hopes to create curated programs that are sustainable and relevant for our rider partners while mitigating the risks and uncertainties often tied to these reskilling and upskilling programs, be it funding opportunities, language proficiency, learning capacities, industry relevance, and others.

Moving Forward

We are currently looking forward to working together with the Government on providing feedback, industry insights to help formulate long-term solutions to address industry-wide issues and the gig economy, and how we can best help our stakeholders carve out a way out for a gig worker. We believe it is our civic responsibility as a market leader to be more proactive in spearheading efforts and initiatives on these matters.

With the pandemic and Movement Control Orders still lingering on, we recognize the important roles our rider partners play, and hope that the panda purpose program will inspire more conversations and initiatives among those in the position of power to help create a robust and sustainable gig economy moving forward.

Leading the Public Affairs and Government Relations team in foodpanda MY. Khairil Ahmad acts as the focal point for communications between foodpanda MY and the Federal and State Government of MY.

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