A food delivery company did not know it had to report the death of one of its riders to the work safety regulator, which was told only when the union informed it days later.
HungryPanda, which started in the United Kingdom to cater to the Chinese diaspora in 2016 and has since expanded across dozens of cities including Sydney and Melbourne, is still in compensation negotiations with the family of Xiaojun Chen, who died last September after colliding with a bus in Zetland.
After admitting the notification failure at a NSW parliamentary committee hearing on Tuesday, HungryPanda’s Australian human resources manager, Tina Sun, said the company would have an insurance scheme in place for its riders by the end of next month.
“We have been in extensive talks with private insurance providers for some time,” she said in a statement.
That could stop riders such as Mr Chen and their families being left without income in the event of death or serious injury although the size of, and conditions on, any payout remains unclear.
Ms Sun told the hearing HungryPanda did not know it had a legal obligation to tell SafeWork NSW about drivers’ deaths or serious injuries when Mr Chen died a day after the accident on September 29, 2020.
“We did report later because when the accident happened I myself went to the hospital and I have to say we were not quite familiar with the process but we did pay very high attention to that accident,” Ms Sun said.
The union reported the incident to SafeWork days later.
Since then, the company had worked closely with SafeWork, learned its legal obligations and improved its safety standards, she said.
Mr Chen’s family are still in negotiations with HungryPanda, which paid for his widow’s travel to and from Australia to collect his ashes, over a settlement because he died without insurance. However, the family had received an initial payment from the bus driver’s compulsory third-party insurance, Ms Sun told the hearing.
NSW workplace insurer icare has refused a payout because like other gig-economy workers, Mr Chen was formally classified as an independent contractor rather than an employee.
The Transport Workers’ Union is running a separate test case challenging the principle behind that finding as well as two unfair dismissal claims arguing riders are employees.
Independent contractors can take out their own insurance, which Ms Sun said the company officially required when riders signed up although she could not guarantee it was held by all riders.
Labor committee chair Daniel Mookhey questioned whether delivery riders could afford their own insurance and said it was a “significant lapse” for HungryPanda to fail to report Mr Chen’s death.
NSW Greens upper house MP David Shoebridge accused the company of taking advantage of Australia’s workplace system by having more than 100 riders on the road in Sydney alone on most days while paying nothing to insure them.
HungryPanda received three notices from SafeWork in December instructing it to improve its standards.