By Olivia Poh and Yoolim Lee
(Bloomberg) — Singapore’s biggest mobile apps have set aside their rivalry to form an unlikely partnership, hoping to strengthen their influence with the local government as it considers laws that could transform the gig economy.
Grab Holdings Ltd., Delivery Hero SE’s Foodpanda and Deliveroo Plc, three usually fierce rivals in meal delivery, have created the Digital Platforms Industry Association, they said in a statement on Thursday. They are joining up formally for the first time to help shape guidelines that protect the health and safety of delivery workers.
The move reflects the growing pressure on gig economy stalwarts such as Uber Technologies Inc. as governments around the world consider policy changes to raise wages or provide health-care to contract employees who typically don’t enjoy full-time benefits. Critics say that food-delivery companies like Grab, Foodpanda and Deliveroo — which flourished during the pandemic — have exacerbated social inequities by not properly rewarding their riders.
The business model of the so-called gig economy has drawn criticism globally for effectively taking advantage of labor arbitrage, rights advocates say. Companies benefit from having people work for them without taking on the traditional responsibilities of a direct employer. The debate in Singapore has grown heated this year, in part because the ruling party seeks to address a groundswell of complaints from the thousands that deliver meals around the island daily.
For years now, food-delivery and ride-hailing companies have marketed themselves to gig workers as side hustles that fit around their lifestyles. But platforms have also used incentives and penalties to manage driver behaviour, nudging them toward certain modes of operation and limiting the freedom they have. Workers have found themselves under pressure to clock long hours in order to earn a meaningful wage, according to a report by the National University of Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies. Several government officials this year have publicly called for an overhaul of those arrangements, urging better safety standards and contributions to workers’ national social savings schemes.
The three mobile giants are taking preemptive action before lawmakers move. In the coming months, the association said it will collaborate with the government and industry stakeholders to identify areas for improvement. Through the alliance, the platforms will also provide workers with training opportunities and strengthened health and safety standards.
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