Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 18 March 2024



This food delivery rider spoke up against Hungry Panda. Then they called the police on her

Hungry Panda is one of the food delivery apps that have been criticised for low pay and unsafe conditions.(Jason Om)

Delivery rider Zhuoying Wang uses Joy as her English name, but she's found little joy while working for Hungry Panda.

In January she took her concerns about low pay and rider safety to the company, while rallying other riders to take part in a union protest.

Several days later she noticed her orders on the app had been cut.

"I think maybe it is because I am a very disobedient rider," Ms Wang told 7.30 through a Mandarin translator.

She believes she's been targeted.

"I have the awareness to speak up and defend my rights. The retaliation they are currently taking against me is very specific," she said.

With fewer orders to deliver, Ms Wang said she's now struggling to get by.

A woman riding a food delivery bike on a road.
Joy says she spoke out because she wanted "a fairer, safer job".(ABC News: Jason Om)

"I think I will have to probably borrow money to pay next week's rent. If I still don't have any orders, I will probably not be able to afford food."

On January 23, two days before the planned union demonstration, Ms Wang went to the company's Sydney CBD office to protest with a megaphone.

What happened there is now in dispute.

Hungry Panda told 7.30 it called the police on Ms Wang, alleging she had engaged in unlawful behaviour by disrupting the peace.

That's why it cut Ms Wang's orders, Hungry Panda said, not because of union activities.

Initially, Hungry Panda said police moved her on.

But Ms Wang denies she engaged in unlawful behaviour, saying she complied with orders from building security to leave and did not see any police.

New South Wales Police confirmed it attended Hungry Panda's office address "following reports of a woman yelling at passers-by using an amplifier".

A woman sitting on a food delivery bike.
Joy is taking Hungry Panda to the Fair Work Commission.(ABC News: Jason Om)

"Police were unable to locate anyone matching the description at the location," a spokesperson said.

Hungry Panda later said "the focus should remain on the facts of [Joy's] conduct rather than the specifics of who stopped her conduct".

Ms Wang has now taken Hungry Panda to the Fair Work Commission with the help of the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

Through the union, Ms Wang told 7.30:

"I found myself in a desperate situation because of pay cuts, unfair order distribution, a dangerous reward system with unsafe time limits to complete orders, and a lack of rights, like proper injury insurance.

"I spoke out about it and tried to talk to the company, to ask for help. I never engaged in unlawful behaviour. I just wanted a fairer, safer job."

Hungry Panda's shaky track record

A man stands in front of a house.
Hungry Panda rider Xiaojun Chen was killed in 2020 while working in Sydney.(Supplied)

Hungry Panda is a UK-based company which entered the Australian food delivery market in 2019.

It's Chinese-language app specialises in Asian food delivery, and the company boasts 40,000 riders in 10 countries.

In Australia, Hungry Panda quickly angered its riders, facing union-led protests over pay and safety.

"Hungry Panda has been treating this industry like the Wild West," TWU national secretary Michael Kaine told 7.30.

Mr Chen was one of five riders across various companies who died that year, highlighting the risky conditions food delivery workers face in the gig economy.

In 2021, Hungry Panda reinstated two riders after they took the company to the Fair Work Commission, claiming unfair dismissal.

That same year Hungry Panda apologised after a NSW inquiry revealed it failed to promptly report Mr Chen's death to SafeWork NSW.

Union members are again protesting, claiming Hungry Panda has cut base rates of pay from $7 to $4 per order for motorbikes, and $6 to $5 per order for bicycles.

Hungry Panda rejected this, telling 7.30 it had not cut base rates of pay.

'Every individual is valued': Hungry Panda

A food delivery rider on a bicycle with a crowd of people in the distance.
Food delivery companies will soon face new workplace laws ensuring minimum standards for gig workers.(ABC News: Jerry Rickard )

Hungry Panda maintains that it supports its riders, having signed up to industry-led national safety principles in 2021.

The company's global media spokesperson, Kitty Lu, told 7.30 that Hungry Panda respected workers' rights to join a union or engage in union activities.

"Every individual is valued by our company," Ms Lu said.

"We would never do anything against any individual because they joined or engaged with these kinds of industrial activities."

As Joy's case goes before the Fair Work Commission, food delivery companies will face new workplace laws that ensure minimum standards for gig workers when they come into effect from July.

The Federal Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke told 7.30 that the Fair Work Commission will be able to set the new standards.

"Any company that thinks they're bigger than the Fair Work Commission, they will get a rude shock, because the Fair Work Commission has the powers to bring people into line if they're not obeying the law," Mr Burke said.

Ms Lu said Hungry Panda would comply with the new laws.

"It's not a yes or no optional thing, this is what every corporate citizen should do."

Watch 7.30, Mondays to Thursdays 7:30pm on ABC iview and ABC TV

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