Food delivery deaths: NSW transport minister criticised for ‘victim blaming’
The New South Wales transport minister, Andrew Constance, has been criticised for “victim-blaming” comments made about the recent deaths of delivery riders.
Five delivery riders have been killed in road crashes in Australia since 27 September, an average of one every 11 days. In Sydney, two Uber Eats riders were killed in separate crashes on Saturday morning and Monday evening.
The minister told reporters on Tuesday morning that food delivery companies needed to provide more reflective equipment, but that riders themselves had “a degree of self-responsibility” to “make sure that they are highly visible”.
The head of the Bicycle Network, Craig Richards, said there was no evidence any of the riders who died were not wearing enough reflective clothing.
He said the government’s taskforce into the deaths – announced on Tuesday – needed an urgent deadline, otherwise more people would die while waiting for its recommendations.
Daniel Mookhey, a NSW Labor MP who is chairing the current inquiry into the gig economy, said the government should act now.
“There is massive risk of more people dying riding for gig platforms before we hear anything from the taskforce,” he said.
“I’m disappointed the minister failed to set a deadline for the taskforce to finish its work. We haven’t even seen its terms of reference.”
Mookhey said the government could make an “emergency workplace health and safety regulation for food riders in the gig economy” while waiting for the taskforce.
He also confirmed he would consider speeding up the findings of the current inquiry, if the taskforce lagged behind.
“If the state government doesn’t take any meaningful action, I’m open to the inquiry fast-tracking its WHS and workers compensation recommendations,” he said. “Someone has to act.”
Richards said any timeframe longer than five months would make the taskforce pointless.
“In other workplaces, if five people were killed, you’d be on to it in a beat,” he said. “If it is six months, then no – we already have a parliamentary inquiry doing that.
“Tell us next week, if there are recommendations to be made, do it fast. We don’t want to rush, but at the moment, we have a concentration of fatalities, so we want to make sure we do everything we can.”
He said that Constance’s earlier comments on the deaths were “victim-blaming”.
On Tuesday morning, prior to the taskforce announcement, Constance said: “I have asked the agency to contact the companies – more must be done in terms of the reflective equipment that they are wearing. It wouldn’t matter if it is the actual bag they are carrying, or the clothes that they are wearing. We want to make sure that they increase their visibility on the roads.”
When asked whether he would support a Labor bill to mandate protections for workers, he said: “I think the key element is: let’s work with the companies on a solution. You know, and also the riders themselves, there has got to be a degree of self-responsibility to make sure that they are highly visible. So, you have got to find a good landing in that place.”
The minister also said that while the circumstances of each crash was different, “generally I think we would all acknowledge that they are getting around the city typically in the night hours”.
Richards said there was no evidence that any of the riders who died were not wearing enough reflective or visible clothing.
The most recent fatal crashes in Sydney occurred at 11am and 6.40pm respectively.
“We have had five people who have lost their lives, to suggest that it was their fault for not wearing a vest – we don’t know that,” he said.
“At this stage we don’t know if they were wearing one or not. It is a horrible thought to suggest.”
He also criticised the minister for not telling motorists or car drivers to be more careful.
“It puts all the onus on the person riding,” he said. “The evidence shows that fluorescent vests don’t make a difference in that regard. People think you put one of these fluorescent vests on and you are bulletproof, and it solves all your problems.”
A spokeswoman for Constance did not answer questions on whether the taskforce had a deadline.
“Every death on our road is a tragedy,” she said. “It’s going to take work on all sides, from industry, individuals and government, to ensure the safety of delivery riders. We want to do everything possible as a government to ensure everyone is safe on our roads and at work.”
But Mookhey said the new taskforce “seems to have no additional powers”.
“SafeWork NSW has immense power, but hasn’t used them. Usually, when a person dies on the job, SafeWork NSW closes their workplace until they’re confident it’s safe.”
Richards said that drivers’ awareness of cyclists was important.
“It just makes more people realise: ‘When I am driving a vehicle, I better look out’. Whether a person is delivering food or riding for leisure. That is the classic mistake people make, they don’t look.”