E-Hailing Drivers, Delivery Riders Should Be Priority Group For Vaccination — Amanda Yeo

If the government could provide vaccination for all e-hailing drivers and delivery riders by year end, a social safety net can be established among gig economy workers, driving renewed economic activities in the new normal.

Although the current administration is trying their best to have every Malaysian citizen vaccinated, e-hailing drivers and delivery riders, who are unsung heroes in the service delivery industry, were not included as a priority group to be vaccinated. 

Based on the guidelines from the Covid-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee Special Committee (JKJAV) on March 1, Phase One of vaccination involves 500,000 medical and non-medical frontline personnel and will be completed in April. 

To date, Phase One of vaccination comprises two categories: 

  • Frontliners in contact with Covid-19 test samples including those at private facilities; medical, dental, pharmaceutical and lab officers; as well as paramedics and auxiliary support staff; and 
  • Persons who are at risk but not directly exposed, including general practitioners, private dentists, complementary medicine practitioners and private laboratory staff. Security personnel, National Welfare Department staff, haemodialysis centre operators, teachers with co-morbidities, ministers and elected representatives are non-health frontliners who are eligible for vaccination during Phase One. 

Vaccination for ministers and elected representatives might inspire greater public confidence, but e-hailing drivers and delivery riders who work long hours should also be vaccinated in advance.

E-hailing drivers and delivery riders are known as uncelebrated frontliners who are constantly exposed to the sun and rain to make ends meet. 

After losing their regular jobs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many became full-time e-hailing drivers or delivery riders. Hence, the statistics of those involved in e-hailing and delivery services last year will likely become higher than in previous years.

In 2019, there were 466,600 workers involved in the gig sector, compared with 559,900 workers in 2018, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia. 

In addition, The Centre, a local think tank, indicated in its recent findings that gig platforms such as Grab and Foodpanda experienced a surge in demand for delivery services and delivery rider applications since the enforcement of the first Movement Control Order (MCO) in March last year.

The movement restrictions from the MCO and conditional MCO (CMCO) led more people to place orders online. In turn, this has generated higher revenue among the food delivery service providers – showing a growth of 7.3 per cent and 14.5 per cent in the first quarter and second quarter of 2020 respectively. 

Even though the e-hailing sector recorded a contraction of revenue at 16 per cent and 68.8 per cent in Q1 and Q2 of last year respectively, the e-hailing sector saw the highest rebound in revenue with a 237.8 per cent growth in the third quarter when economic activities reopened from June 10 last year. 

To fulfil the rising orders from work-from-home customers, some e-hailing drivers and delivery riders have to work more than eight hours a day without having the time to enjoy proper meals. They have to rush from one destination to another to reduce waiting time among customers.

E-hailing drivers and delivery riders not only try to earn a living to keep life going for their families, but are also helping to expand the economic chain of traders. The sacrifice made by e-hailing drivers and delivery riders received attention from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin during his visit to the Grab Drivers Centre in Petaling Jaya at the end of November last year.

An additional 10,000 e-hailing drivers and delivery riders since the first imposition of the MCO in March last year suggests that now is the time for the government to work closely with 33 e-hailing providers in the country. 

By going beyond the auspices of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, Ministry of Health and the National Security Council (NSC), all e-hailing drivers and delivery riders in Malaysia eventually will receive vaccination soon.

As Grab has launched a Southeast Asia region-wide vaccination programme to increase vaccine access and education for all stakeholders on its platform since February 4, the JKJAV perhaps could consider Indonesia’s approach – collaborating with Grab to initiate drive-through vaccination service centres across Malaysia, where it could prioritise vaccination for almost 500,000 Malaysian gig workers on the platform in several phases.

As Phase One of vaccination will be completed by April, the JKJAV perhaps could arrange 20 per cent of gig sector workers (i.e., around 100,000 individuals) to be vaccinated during Phase One, followed by 40 per cent of workers (i.e., 200,000 individuals) in Phases Two and Three, which are set to begin in April and May respectively. 

To ensure all e-hailing drivers and delivery riders are vaccinated, the JKJAV must work with 33 e-hailing providers in the country to mark and include all of them onto their map, especially those in semi-urban areas or rural areas. 

If the government could provide vaccination for all e-hailing drivers and delivery riders by year end, a social safety net can be established among gig economy workers, driving renewed economic activities in the new normal. 

Amanda Yeo is a research analyst at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

  • This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.

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