Gig workers need better protection from economic shocks

Two years into the outbreak of Covid-19 has shown that the pandemic affects more than just public health and the global economy.

Therefore, both health and economy shall need a long time to recover and return to a new normal. It’s clear that Covid-19 has become one of the events that precipitates social inequality.

Those with underlying health conditions are at risk. The World Health Organisation research shows that patients with hypertension who contract the disease face an 8.4 per cent fatality rate. Patients with a cardiovascular disease face a higher risk of fatality, at 13.2 per cent.

A study by Khazanah Research Institute discovered that 20.4 and 38.3 per cent of the low household income group are living with diabetes and high blood pressure, repectively. In the top household income group, the figures are 14.8 and 27.1 per cent, respectively.

It stands to reason that those with lower incomes are more likely to experience severe responses to Covid-19. Furthermore, people with a lower household income have limited access to testing and healthcare, exacerbating their already precarious condition.

The spread of Covid-19 thrives on social interaction, which is why the Movement Control Order (MCO) was implemented by the government. Citizens have been ordered to stay home to prevent the spread of the virus. Despite the heightened risk of exposure, some continue to work in jobs considered essential.

Those considered essential are medical workers who are taking significant risk to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and gig workers who are primarily in delivery services.

When the lockdown was carried out, the low-income households were worried about reduced income and the possibility of losing jobs. However, the gig economy has opened a door for them to generate additional income.

This becomes significant when the demand for services such as P-hailing increases dramatically. Hence, they have to keep working despite the elevated health risk. By the end of last year, the Malaysia Digital Economy Cor-poration stated that employees in the gig economy totalled 700,000.

Eight out of 10 gig economy jobs are in the location-based employment category, such as P-hailing services, and the rest are online-website-based, such as programmers. P-hailing services are defined as food and parcel delivery using motorcycles.

Those in this service are vulnerable in two ways. Firstly, they are exposed to Covid-19 infection, and secondly, exposed to the risk of work hazards such as accidents.

The situation is much worse considering they do not have the same protection as full-time jobs. For example, during the MCO last year 91 accidents involved riders in P-hailing services and they might lack health coverage.

The current situation shows that we are starting to understand the effects the pandemic will have on health and wellbeing.

Low-income workers, especially gig workers, are vulnerable and more likely to face increased vulnerability due to economic shocks related to Covid-19.

Therefore, as the government continues to generate policy options to navigate this pandemic, keeping these P-hailing services’ concerns in mind should be a priority.

Institut Masa Depan Malaysia proposes that the government start an initial strategy to protect them by obliging them to register for the Social Security Organisation (Socso) protection scheme. The government would subsidise half the cost of subscribing to Socso.

An allocation of RM533.5 million a year will be needed to encourage self-buy-in of this social security system.

Furthermore, collective bargaining is vital to bridge gaps in the legislation and provide the right path to responses to needs of workers and employers.

Therefore, the gig economy sector should strengthen collective bargaining by establishing a workers union as an additional support mechanism.

Their employment programme system needs to be modified, too, especially in providing better protection. The basic element in this policy should be needs-based.

Such a move will fulfil one main element outlined in the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030, which is the first objective — development for all.

Date: 15 July 2021
Source and Image from: New Straits Times – https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2021/07/708394/gig-workers-need-better-protection-economic-shocks

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