Food delivery is serious business in Taiwan. Although the government’s superb handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed most restaurants to remain open across the island, the National Credit Card Center reported that in April 2020, 6 million transactions were logged on Online Food Delivery (OFD) platforms, a sevenfold increase from the same month a year earlier. And while orders in subsequent months did not reach that record amount, numbers have remained very high.
The rapid rise in food delivery orders has also raised some important questions regarding the people who make the deliveries. The issue that has gained the most attention in this discussion is that of how to define these workers. Are they gig workers – and thus independent contractors – or should they be considered employees of the companies that operate the platforms?
This issue is not specific to Taiwan. The passage last January of California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), a state law that extended employee classification status to certain gig workers, was met in November with Proposition 22, which legally designates drivers for app-based ride-hailing and delivery platforms as independent contractors. Prop 22 passed with nearly 60% of the vote, indicating that most voters rejected the government’s rush to introduce a rigid classification system for workers in a changing economy.
In Taiwan, labor authorities have taken a similarly conventional approach to categorizing gig workers. In late 2019, Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor (MOL) conducted labor audits of OFD platforms and determined that in several cases, an employment relationship existed between couriers and the platforms. The MOL then introduced guidelines and a checklist to determine whether a given labor agreement constitutes an employment or independent contractor relationship, yet many of the checklist’s items are present across various work arrangements. Furthermore, new data suggests that most gig workers themselves enjoy the freedom associated with being an independent contractor, and would prefer not to be pigeonholed into certain categories.
A recent survey of over 14,000 Taiwan-based couriers conducted by major food delivery platform Uber Eats found that overall, respondents desired flexibility over stability in their work with the app. Couriers cited “flexibility and freedom” as the top reason for choosing OFD work, followed by “supplemental income” and, thirdly, their ability to handle other responsibilities (caretaking, household chores, school, etc.) in addition to their work with the app.
Around 60% said that they would not consider taking a full-time job, with 72.4% citing as a reason the incompatibility of a formal full-time job with their lifestyle. Such results indicate that the majority of the couriers who partner with Uber Eats choose to work in the OFD business, rather than do so out of necessity.
In addition, couriers value their ability to arrange their own time (96.2%) – as opposed to being assigned work or shifts (3.8%) – as well as their freedom to reject orders (90.1%). They also enjoy being able to choose how the work they do is conducted (83.6%), versus being required to follow company directions (16.4%). They prefer to be paid by task (81.2%), rather than be required to clock in and out at designated times (18.8%). In other words, the type of work arrangement delivery partners generally seek is that of an independent contractor, rather than an employee bound by relevant restrictions and conditions.
In terms of the demographics of survey respondents, 92% were age 50 or younger, and were mainly men living in metropolitan areas. Most had at least a high school education. In choosing to undertake OFD work, they prioritized income (79.3%), accident insurance (9.1%), and other benefits (i.e. vehicle maintenance/gas subsidies) (4.7%). However, one interesting finding was that while 82% of respondents are aware of the Group Insurance plan provided by Uber Eats, 73% had also purchased supplementary insurance related to OFD work. This was especially true of those over the age of 40, as well as more experienced couriers and those who logged longer hours on the platform.
The results of the Uber Eats survey shed some new light on the discussion surrounding food couriers and how they should be viewed under Taiwan’s labor laws. Particularly, they highlight that on the whole, such workers are not invested in being classified as employees of a given company. Government agencies should thus listen to their voices on this matter and refrain from viewing their work relationships through a conventional lens.
In addition, Taiwan’s government should work with industry to codify into law the concept of “safe harbor” for app-based companies, as doing so would allow these companies to provide and extend benefits and protections to gig workers without jeopardizing the preexisting independent contractor model.
The Uber Eats survey was conducted online between October 30 and November 4, 2020. A total of 14,348 unique responses were collected, making this the largest survey of its kind in Taiwan.
Read the complete survey, click here or scan QR code below.