For many people today, staying at home has become the new normal. With COVID-19-confirmed infections projected to reach 3 million worldwide and 10,000 in the Philippines in the coming weeks, governments are imposing stricter measures to limit mobility through quarantines and lockdowns.
Still in retaliation to the viral outbreak, the nation’s front liners, especially doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers have also, on one hand, given a sense of hope for many, but on the other, risked and are continuing to risk their own lives for the benefit of all. For one, there is a troubling lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers in several medical facilities. All the while, more and more healthcare workers have succumbed to the virus, with the said front liners comprising 16% the entire number of COVID-19-positive cases in the country.
Apart from health workers, civilian volunteers, and military personnel, there are also other individuals who are fighting a different, yet equally perilous battle. With the rising popularity of food delivery companies, delivery riders work the whole day bringing food to various households, sometimes being the only motorists to roam around now-decongested highways. They have been dubbed as ‘front liners’ themselves. But what does it really take to be a ‘front liner’ in their context? And how do their conditions expose existing structural inequalities?
Necessity over safety
While individuals from the academe can conduct online sessions and some politicians have the “special treatment” of going to places they want to be, food delivery drivers are justifiably out in the open as a necessity. They simply must work on the streets, in order to make a living.
“Hindi nakakahiya na trabaho ang pagdeliver. Kahit nandun po ang takot sa virus, napasasaya namin ang mga customer namin,” said Nursaud Tanaka Anuyo, a 22-year-old Food Panda driver from General Santos City.
Nursaud has only been in the well-known Food Panda delivery service for two months, but he has already taken a great liking to working in the company even amidst these virus-riddled times. Once employed in a coffee shop in Gensan, Anuyo decided to venture out to new jobs and found himself wearing the signature pink-and-grey uniforms of Food Panda.
For the young driver, delivering has mostly been a blissful experience. Despite strict quarantine measures and less people ordering these days, Nursaud admitted that being a front liner enabled him to feel like a hero, just as much as doctors, nurses and the police.
Even with these feelings of heroism and bravery, Nursaud just can’t shake away his doubts of possibly getting the virus himself and passing this on to his family. After all, COVID-19 knows no bounds; it doesn’t mind one’s color of skin, body features, and the income earned from a job. If anything, Nursaud is just like all of us, highly afraid of an invisible foe, but what sets him apart from other well-off individuals is that he just cannot afford to give up his job for his own safety.
“Ano rin kasi ang ipakain namin sa aming mga pamilya kung wala kaming trabaho? Kaya ayun, naghahanap buhay kaming mga drivers na maka-ipon lang man ng pera,” stated Saud.
Virus fears take the backseat
With the pandemic as a backdrop of food delivery drivers’ daily labor, many drivers like Nursaud constantly worry about contracting the virus. However, this fear takes a backseat to other pressing issues at work. For instance, with most people opting to cook meals at home, the young driver commented that he used to get an average of 20 customers per day when quarantine measures were still lenient and limited only to physical distancing. Since then, it has decreased to 10 to 14 customers with lockdown measures introduced, thereby affecting his daily wage of roughly around P400-500 as other expenses such as gasoline are deducted.
“Yung wala pa yung lockdown, malaki ang nagiging sahod ko dahil 24/7 na bukas ang mga vendors. Kadalasan nung panahon na iyon, at least P45 ang nakukuha ko sa bawat delivery.”
Furthermore, Nursaud is usually troubled with order cancellations. At a time when so many food delivery drivers are desperate to earn more for themselves and their families, there can be customers who decide to cancel food deliveries at the very last minute.
“Nakakawalang gana yung ma-cancellan ka. Mahirap siya kasi kahit kumpleto na nga ang delivery details at ready na pagkain, bigla na lang icacancel ng ibang mga customers. Ma-break kami dahil sayang ang oras, effort, at ang pambayad sa gasolina,” lamented Nursaud.
As a precautionary measure against the virus, food delivery companies have implemented their own protocols for the safety of its drivers, such as Food Panda’s ‘contactless deliveries’. It has also been providing its drivers with useful PPE, free meals, and incentives for their daily income.
“Kahit sa mga ganitong panahon, natutulungan parin kami ng Food Panda. Nakakaipon pa ako at nabibili ko pa ang gusto ko na mga bagay. As long as nandiyan pa ang Food Panda, di ko gustong ipagpalit ang trabahong ito,” said Nursaud.
During these trying days, dark shadows seep out from the cracks of an unequal, broken system. The elite or the so-called “1%” could afford to not set foot from their fortresses for weeks, and a majority of middle-class citizens can still turn to alternative means of gaining an income in the form of work-from-home settings. Food delivery drivers are unfortunately not part of these groups. Janitors, trash collectors, fast food workers, and grocery cashiers, among others, just don’t have the luxury to ‘stay at home’, hence they are continually forced to work for the sake of survival while being superficially praised by the public for a ‘job well done’.
COVID-19, in all its mayhem and fury, has led countless of Filipinos handling the pandemic in unique, varying ways. While the well-off members of society have the advantage of enjoying the comforts of home, those in desperate need of food and money continue to toil even as a terrible pandemic continues to worsen each day.
Some may claim that food delivery drivers like Nursaud are laudable for continuing to provide ‘service’ amid the danger, but the fact remains that their work requires them to be out in the open and, inevitably, exposed to a deadly virus. Calling them ‘front liners’ can be lethal as much as it gives life—at the end of the day, they may not be heroes who work for the sake of service per se, but hostages to a capitalistic system who are left with no choice but to work or starve.