P-hailing riders struggle to make ends meet post-Covid curbs

Alfian Z.M. Tahir Ravin Palanisamy

P-hailing riders say there is no regulatory body overseeing the fare rates, which means companies have absolute control in dictating fares. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 19, 2023.

IN the last three years, when Malaysians were mostly housebound due pandemic curbs, food delivery riders used to earn anything from RM5,000 to RM6,000 a month.

Fast-forward to 2023, many p-hailing riders have now switched jobs due to a reduction in fare rates, although some are still hanging on because of a lack of job opportunities.

Speaking to The Malaysian Insight, the riders expressed dissatisfaction towards e-hailing and p-hailing companies which, according to them, failed to listen to their grouses, especially on fare rates.

They said at the moment, there is no entity regulating the fare price for riders, thus giving e-hailing companies total control in dictating fares.

Grab Drivers Malaysia Association president Arif Asyraf Ali said riders could earn a lot during the pandemic because it was the only mode of transport for people to get food. The rate at the time was high and there were fewer p-hailing companies.

“The competition was not very high between companies. We earned good money every month but as soon as the movement control orders were lifted and people could go out, our rates fell tremendously,” he said, adding that the group counts 500 drivers and riders as its members.

“Now we are on the losing end, while the p-hailing companies and consumers have all the advantage. Nobody can regulate fares or control them at the moment.”

Arif said the current RM0.45 per km rate is very low. The group has been asking for the rate to be increased to at least RM0.75-RM1 per km but this has fallen on deaf ears.

These days, he said they are only able to earn about RM50 to RM100 a day.

He said many riders have to continue doing deliveries despite the low wages, to make ends meet.

“There is no option for many of us. We carry on riding. The worst case scenario is we cancel the order if the rate is ridiculous.

“Or look for a full-time job and ride as a part-timer to earn side income,” he said.

Agreeing with Arif was 33-year-old Mokana Raj from Kuala Lumpur.

He said changes in the p-hailing fee structure have caused many to look for other jobs.

“The income we make is unlike the times during the pandemic. Previously, the income was not much from passengers but on food deliveries.

“There have been some changes to the fee structure and this has affected our income.

“It is unfair to reduce the fare when the volume of orders has not declined. It is largely due to the increase in the number of riders out there,” he said.

Food delivery riders say they were able to earn around RM4,000 to RM5,000 a month during the pandemic as people depended on their services to get their meals when movement was restricted. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 19, 2023.

However, Mokana is still optimistic about his job, saying that his pay is still better than some full-time jobs.

“Previously, we could set a time frame daily to work but now we need to work extra hours to earn more.

“For me, this is still better because full-time employment elsewhere pays less than RM3,000.

“With p-hailing, there is flexibility. Now that the movement restrictions have been lifted, there is demand for night orders. So we cannot be fussy, we have to be smart.

“On days like Thursday, Friday, Saturday, we sacrifice some sleep and work at odd hours,” he said.

In June 2022, consumer groups urged p-hailing companies to cut the commission they charge their riders and provide the riders with more incentives.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations president Marimuthu Nadason previously said Grab – one the more popular p-hailing providers – was charging its riders a 20% commission.

The groups said p-hailing fares should be regulated so that the service is more affordable.

They also urged the government to open up the p-hailing sector to allow more small-time players to participate.

Mohd Shami from Selangor admitted that competition is high as there are now more than two p-hailing companies in the country.

He said following the government’s decision to lift pandemic curbs, orders have also declined.

“Times are tough, orders have reduced, the number of riders and platforms have increased, meaning more competition,” Shami said.

“Previously, people only used Foodpanda and Grab. Now there are many other platforms. We cannot become riders for three or four companies, we just can’t cope in the end.”

“During the Covid pandemic, we could earn around MR4,000 to RM5,000 a month. Now with fewer orders, we are looking at only RM3,000,” said the 36-year-old.

64-year-old K. Manivanan was a food delivery rider but has now switched to fetching passengers.

The retiree said he needed the work to pay his monthly bills.

He said his target is to earn around RM100-RM150 daily. He was initially only doing Grabfood, although he was driving a car.

“Back then it was easy but now the demand market is not there. So, I changed to Grabcar.

“We have to admit, post-lockdown, people all want to go out but the demand for rides is no longer as high.

“For example, last time, I could hit my target of 8-10 passengers. Now I must work longer hours to get that number of passengers.

“Fortunately, I am a retiree and I work only to pay my household bills. Everything is expensive these days,” Manivanan said.

He had expected the current government to make things easier for people like him but that has not taken place.

Food delivery riders sacrifice sleep and work odd hours on the weekend because there is a demand for night orders. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, September 19, 2023.

Riding 12-14 hours a day

Meanwhile, 27-year-old Muhammad Hikmie Hakim said he now has to work more than 10 hours a day to meet his monthly income target.

The father of three said he was left with no other choice as he is the only breadwinner.

“It is tiring so I take two or two-and-a-half hours’ rest separately every day. The flexibility gives me time to decide at what hour I should start working,” Hikmie said.

“Working longer hours mean I get extra delivery orders. Since I am the only one working, I need to put in extra hours to bring food to the table.

“Usually I do 12 hours so I can bring home a comfortable sum as the children are getting older and soon they need to go to school.

“Some others, I know, work for 14 hours,” said the rider from Cheras.

Human Resources Minister V. Sivakumar on July 4 reportedly said his ministry is drafting a policy for gig workers.

This, he said, is an interim measure while the ministry formulates legislation to defend the group’s rights, especially in terms of income and social security.

Sivakumar said self-employed workers are not protected by specific laws.

“We are drafting a policy to see how the government can ensure gig workers are not discriminated against by employers, and provide social protection to them,” he said. – September 19, 2023.

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