A landmark decision by the NSW Government’s Dispute Settlement Body, Personal Injury Commission, to see the family of a food delivery rider killed in a car accident in 2020 receive $ 830,000 in compensation after the food company and its insurance company claimed responsibility for his death.
Xiaojun Chen, 43, died in September 2020 after his bicycle collided with a bus. He took the job at the supply company Hungry Panda to support a wife and two children in China, leaving together a dependent 75-year-old father.
Law firm Slater and Gordon raised the issue with the support of The Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), which has fought for food delivery riders to have rights such as minimum wage and work compensation.
iCare’s insurance agent Employers Mutual Limited (EML) accepted that Chen was employed by HungryPanda when he died, meaning his family is now eligible for benefits.
Slater and Gordon Practice Group Leader Jasmina Mackovic said the result was groundbreaking.
“As far as we know, this is the first case where there has been an admission that a gig-economy driver has been considered a worker,” she said.
“Gig-economy workers and their families are usually denied any rights because they are considered independent contractors rather than employees, which means they are not able to access worker compensation and other benefits such as cancellation of leave and sick leave.
“This also means that workers or their families are not guaranteed loss of payroll payments, medical payments or a lump sum for any impairment if they are injured or ill, or even in the event of death, as has happened here.”
Chen’s death was part of a wave of deaths from gig-economy riders that led to an NSW parliamentary inquiry into the sector, which led to the state step up education and training to improve safety.
During the inquiry, Hungry Panda’s HR manager provided evidence that she did not know there was a legal obligation for companies to immediately report deaths to SafeWork NSW.
The company is now partnering with TWU to improve its terms and operating standards.
‘Nothing can solve this’
Chen’s widow, Lihong Wei, said in a statement that the decision would bring “respect and recognition to all food. delivery workers for the essential service they provide ”.
Wei said her husband planned to return to China to open one business together to take care of their extended family before he died
“Now that dream will never be realized. The grief my children, their grandparents and myself emotion cannot be put into words, ”she said.
“My kids miss their dad every day. My daughter has started struggling with school and mine son has lost his father forever only eight years old. My father-in-law has lost his only son. Nothing can ever solve this. ”
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine welcomed the decision.
“After two long years, justice has finally been achieved for Xiaojun’s family,” he said.
“No family should experience the indescribable grief of losing a loved one at work. While no amount of compensation will really heal the loss Xioajun’s family feels, this decision is goes a long way towards correcting a terrible wrong. ”
He praised Weis’ “incredible strength” in fighting to change industry for how “she has bravely spoken truth to power”.
“For far too long, gig companies have been able to cross the edges of our outdated industry relations law, which divides workers into two camps: one that receives hard-fought rights, and one who is not entitled to any basic protection, “he said.
“Denial of workers’ rights has created one industry filled with underpayment, extraordinary pressure, injuries and deaths.
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