Hungry Panda was unaware it had to report death of delivery rider, inquiry hears

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Hungry Panda was unaware it had to report death of delivery rider, inquiry hears

February 23, 2021 Syndicated 0

A manager at food delivery company Hungry Panda has told a parliamentary inquiry she did not know they had a legal obligation to report the death of one of their riders to the New South Wales workplace regulator.

Rider Xiaojun Chen, a 43-year-old father of two, was hit and killed by a bus last year while delivering food in Sydney. He was one of five delivery riders, working for gig economy companies like UberEats and Door Dash, who died in the space of two months across Australia.

Chen worked for Hungry Panda, which is an international food delivery company, founded in the UK in 2016, that targets the Chinese expatriate market in six countries.

Riders for Hungry Panda are classed as independent contractors, not employees, meaning they are not entitled to award wages, sick leave and other protections.

Tina Sun, the company’s Australian HR manager, appeared before a NSW parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday looking into the deaths of delivery drivers. She said she could not remember how many days it took for Hungry Panda to report Chen’s death to SafeWork NSW.

Hungry Panda had initially been scheduled to appear before the inquiry in November last year, but the company failed to turn up, with no notice. Their delivery manager, Luna Wei, later apologised, saying that some “riders came to the company without an appointment to discuss some delivery problems”, causing her to miss the inquiry.

On Tuesday, Sun said the company found out about Chen’s death “when the accident happened”, but did not report it to SafeWork NSW immediately as required by law.

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Previously, SafeWork NSW had told the inquiry the Transport Workers Union had been the first organisation to report Chen’s death, after the union found out a week after the collision.

“We did report later because when the accident happened, I myself went to the hospital,” Sun said. “I have to say we were not quite familiar with the process. But we did pay very high attention to that accident.”

The chair of the committee, Labor MP Daniel Mookhey, asked Sun: “Were you aware you had a legal obligation to report as soon possible?”

“No,” Sun said.

Mookhey asked Sun whether anyone at Hungry Panda knew their obligations at the time.

“We have all the health and safety work notification processes, we were not familiar with that,” Sun said. “But after that, we have worked closely with SafeWork and we have improved the procedure and are quite familiar with this process now.”

Sun also disputed whether the union reported the death to SafeWork NSW. “I don’t think the union reported to SafeWork one week after the accident,” she said.

The deputy chair, Mark Banasiak said that Hungry Panda had expanded into six different countries, and asked whether the company had failed to “do its due diligence” to learn about the reporting requirements.

Chen’s widow, Lihong Wei, had previously told Guardian Australia that Chen’s death would leave her and their two children financially destitute, because they also had to look after both Chen and Wei’s elderly parents, who have acquired disabilities.

On Tuesday, Sun said the company was “still under discussion” whether it would pay any further compensation to Chen’s widow.

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She said that Wei had received $20,000 from CTP insurance from the bus driver who hit Chen.

“We see that as compensation,” she said.

She added: “After that accident we have given a lot of support to his family … we helped them apply for the visa and to pay for all the expenses including the return flights and also the funeral costs and also the accommodation.”

Sun said the company was still discussing with Wei’s lawyer whether they would pay his family any further compensation.

Earlier in the inquiry, two riders testified that Hungry Panda had cut pay rates for its riders – from approximately $7.50 per delivery to $3 per delivery.

Sun said that these figures were not accurate, and that pay rates varied and depended on the distance travelled.

“The pay change in February was only for the Waterloo and Zetland area,” she said.

Sun also told the inquiry that Hungry Panda had “around 100 to 150” workers in Sydney at any one time, and that their business model was “very similar with UberEats or Deliveroo or other delivery companies”.

Hungry Panda was established in the UK in 2016, and came to Australia in 2019, Sun said, where it targets “a niche market dedicated to Chinese and Mandarin speakers”.

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