Calls have intensified for owners of app-based delivery platforms to offer welfare protection to those who make the delivery rounds, according to an online seminar.
The delivery sector has employed an increasing number of people over the past few years working both full and part-time.
However, all lack welfare benefits and are devoid of the necessary labour protection, said Akkanut Wantanasombut, an academic at the Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University.
He told the online seminar “ Build Back Better: Gig Worker in the World after Covid-19”
that the labour law needs to widen its coverage so that people in newly-created professions, including app-based delivery people, can take advantage of it.
He said some delivery platform owners legally regard their employees as "partners" to avoid contributing to the social security fund.
Mr Akkanut said app-based delivery platforms, including Grab, foodpanda and Lalamove, create jobs and open up new business opportunities.
However, the nature of their trade and how they treat their "partners" raises questions about job security and terms of employment.
Over the seven years since the first app-based delivery platform service debuted in Thailand, many platform brands have entered the market, giving rise to the number of delivery people better known as "riders".
The academic estimates the riders number more than 100,000 nationwide, around 70,000 of whom work in Bangkok.
Thanee Chaiwat, an economist at Chulalongkorn University, said at the same online seminar that the challenge was to bring freelancers and those working outside the mainstream workforce into the welfare system.
They also include people who hold down many jobs with incomes that vary from month to month.
These groups face a high risk of unemployment and need a welfare safety net, which only the government can provide.
State agencies must also look at how they can care for the ageing population as more people are going into retirement with an uncertain future if they do not have enough savings.
Meanwhile, Apantee Charoensak, a former president of the fast-food employee union in Thailand., told the online seminar on “ Digital Labour in the Capitalist World” , admitted the delivery rounds come with safety hazards and high expenses. She and other riders must bear the costs of petrol for their motorcycles, maintenance and vehicle insurance.
They must also contribute unilaterally to the social security fund because the delivery platform owners do not pay a contribution. The fund covers most hospital bills in case they have an accident.
"We don't really know who our bosses are. There's no one to take responsibility for our employment," she said.
Ms Apantee said most riders prefer to obtain medical treatment free of charge using gold-card universal insurance.
She said delivery platform businesses are lucrative although the owners have managed to free themselves from financial responsibility when the riders are involved in accidents and require treatment.
A source said the problem takes an even more complex turn when many office employees put on rider jackets and make deliveries after work.
In the case of a road accident during a delivery, the riders in this category may not be able to access the social security fund because technically the fund only relates to full-time employment, the source said.
A rider who identified himself only as Boy told the online seminar “ When Riders Strike Back” that he first thought the delivery rounds were an advantage as they do not chain him to employment regulations.
However, the platform companies have put into effect rules such as wearing of the company jacket during deliveries and procurement of a box attached to back to the motorcycle to hold food or other items customers ordered.
This incurs more expenses for riders who also find the box in the rear of their motorcycle cumbersome and limit their ability to manoeuvre through busy traffic. That in turn can raise safety issues facing the riders.
More riders have complained they are earning less from deliveries due to heavy competition as new riders enter the industry.
The seminar was also told the riders do not agree with a proposal that they be paid the minimum daily wage of a little above 300 baht in exchange for being accepted as an employee of the delivery platform companies.