July 21, 2021 (3:06 PM)

5 min read


Dubbed as the “heroes” in this wretched pandemic, Foodpanda riders, despite the honor they are rightfully given, are in reality exploited by the very system that employs them.

When push comes to shove, it is natural for the average working person to assert their rights and welfare, especially when their situation approaches borderline exploitation. But imagine getting suspended by your company for exercising your right to protest. This scenario was the case for the Foodpanda riders.

The ambiguity of the Foodpanda wage system has led to a 3-day “silent protest” by 300 delivery riders from Davao City, who stayed offline on July 14, 15, and 16 to urge Food Panda to “increase their earnings.” In response, Foodpanda sent a notification on the night of July 13 that their accounts are suspended until 2031, effectively cutting them off from perhaps their primary source of income.

Foodpanda is relatively new. However, the core concept of food delivery has been with us since Ancient Rome. Following the digital revolution, current food delivery services took this concept and used the idea of the pioneering ridesharing apps.

In 2009, Uber offered the first modern ridesharing service in America and continued to expand worldwide. Eleven years later, Grab completely took over the South East Asian market for the said service. Following the same technology and business model, current food delivery services such as Foodpanda followed and took over the Philippine market in 2014.

As a ‘first-world’ country, the business model is appropriate in America. A vast majority of the drivers of Uber treat the service as a part-time gig. However, many riders depend on such services to bring food to their table in developing countries like the Philippines.

Proving my point, the Foodpanda riders in Davao City have only earned around Php 500 to Php 800 per day, not to include the deductions for utility payments such as food, gas, and mobile data. In a worst-case scenario, they cannot profit, which is outrageous if it is considered a full-time job.

The number of full-time Grab and Foodpanda riders has continued to rise, especially during the pandemic. The increase in demand for food delivery and the rise of the unemployment rate in the country has further forced Filipinos to embrace these services as full-time jobs.

Notably, Foodpanda uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to calculate the distance a rider has to travel, consequently determining the delivery price. But no matter how efficient this can be, AIs do not take into account the social context of the rider, as well as other factors like traffic that can augment the costs for gasoline, for example.

Thus, relying on AI alone for pricing is unjust, if not inhumane. At the end of the day, AIs are just glorified tools, but the more crucial questions are who is controlling it and for what purposes. 

The fairness of food delivery pricing is challenging to define objectively if the technicalities of these measurements are out of touch with its users, including delivery riders. In the case of Foodpanda, for example, the company has the sole discretion to dictate how the app computes its delivery fees. The clamor to be made aware of how their wages are being calculated eventually led to the Foodpanda riders’ protest last week, as they noticed they were starting to earn less lately from each delivery.

Foodpanda hiding such important details makes us question if they really want to provide stable jobs for the Filipinos or, like the plethora of capitalist companies existing, are merely here to make money and exploit the country’s lack of strict legal regulations.

Like other similar services, Foodpanda uses the “earn anywhere, anytime” tagline to market itself to the riders. If this is the case, why is it a violation for the riders to take a break for three days to exercise a constitutional right to protest? Clearly, this company has little regard for its riders except when it comes to their capacity to generate a massive sum of profit.

The Department of Labor and Employment, along with the Philippine government, should stop being indifferent to the fast progression of technology. It is their job to force Foodpanda and other similar services to adjust their business models according to the country’s economic situation.

Policymakers and companies are using technology, an “unknown entity” to the public, as an excuse to allow such ill-treatment. The state must revisit and modify the labor laws to accommodate the recent advancement of technology.

Technology, with its evolving nature, must be adapted to if we ought to avoid exploitation. The state must ensure checks and balances to mitigate abuses in this highly technical system that the average person may not understand.

If we stay apathetic and allow the cycle to persist, developers will continue to innovate, and investors will continue to fund these ideas. Companies born out of such ideas would continue to look for loopholes in policies to increase their monetary gain — such is the nature of capitalism.

To those with proficiency in computer studies, we must use our knowledge not for our benefit and selfish gains but for uplifting the underprivileged. Because it is our duty as citizens of this country to help those in need — if not us, then who will?

About Son Roy Almerol - Kawingan

Son Roy Almerol is a BS Computer Science student at Ateneo de Davao University. He was once an "iskolar ng bayan" from the University of the Philippines Diliman. Specializing in web development, he developed software applications for multiple student organizations. He writes from time to time to connect the common people to the rapidly growing technology.

End the silence of the gagged!

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