6 Sept 2021 – A platform shopper’s tale
They could barely meet their needs.
The woman manages the household, with their three children.
The man was the ‘provider’, she said, a freelance ‘visual artist ‘making do
with contracts for restoration of paintings. No SSS, no other benefits, nothing.
Then came Covid-19 of immeasurable pain and suffering.
Few contracts, few gigs, few pesos coming.
He had a heart attack in December 2020, and died, swiftly, no long suffering.
‘Shocking’, she said, considering she was (is) the one on maintenance meds.
The woman had to take over. They moved in with her parents to save on rent. The youngest stopped schooling; she had no time, there was no other one to engage in her online classes. The second is in grade 8. The eldest just stepped into college.
Things could have been worse. She said they couldn’t make it, if not for her sister who supports the children’s needs.
She’s a high school graduate, a grocery shopper for probably the biggest platform for grocery in the Philippines. Work, and life, is hard. She says she’s exhausted from work by the time she gets home. She had to tend to her children and do laundry, theirs and for customers. Not much energy for anything else but sleep.
She works with six other shoppers in the area, paid by job order. They work alongside shoppers for other platforms or supermarkets, retail stores. Shoppers are mostly young – five young persons for every older shopper. Mostly women – five women for every male shopper. [The men are mostly ‘runners’, riders, delivering to customers.]
These particular shoppers were originally employed by an agency, made to resign, then suddenly palmed off to individual ‘presidents’ assigned in each area, who pay their wages in cash each week. Probably a subterfuge, to avoid paying minimum wages, benefits, social security and health contributions. To avoid paying taxes, too.
I was surprised there were pay slips (and, therefore, a paper trail for anyone inquiring). There are deductions allegedly for cash bond,10% of ‘salary’ [says the pay slip], per week.
They seldom earn the hourly equivalent of the basic minimum wage of P537 per day in Metro Manila, with less than 10 shopping orders a day in the pandemic. Without tips, they would not meet family basic needs.
They are required to wear uniforms, which they themselves have to pay for. A clear violation of Philippine law.
They provide their own masks, face shields, hand sanitizers, contrary to COVID regulations.
She reminded me on Aug 30, a Philippine holiday, no double pay for shoppers. Another violation of Philippine labor law.
The agency makes a lot, with many shoppers, and increasing as the demands of the pandemic hold. The office used to be a one-floor rental; now the agency occupies one whole building.
Why stay? Few choices given her skills set. Or they starve. Quote from one of her texts: “xxx kailangan po para kahit pano may income, nid lang po matutong magtipid”. [We need income by any means; we need to save.] Her fare from home to shop and back already takes up 25%(!) of her daily pay.
I saw, one day, she shopped for 15 customers! I asked: ‘Paano mo nakaya 15 shop orders’? [How did you manage to complete 15 shop orders?] Twelve, yes twelve, hours of work. The orders have to be filled. And yet no minimum wage, no overtime pay.
Orders range from one single item, to a mind-boggling 190 items in one bulk order. Shoppers are paid a fixed amount per job order; there is no extra pay for bulk orders.
As we wound up our desultory ‘conversation’, by text and messenger, a few questions a day, spread through six days. Everyday, a new horror story. Perverse to look forward to a new violation of law and simple decency every day.
But she looks forward to better days. She has applied to be a shopper again, now with another smaller platform. The platform pays minimum wage, with benefits. “Legal po, and nasa process lahat.” [The p[atform complies with the law.]
It was her birthday two days ago. I had given her an advance gift – a draft letter of demand for the cash bond of shoppers, including her, who were unceremoniously terminated without notice or explanation. The encargado, who dispenses job orders like a general barks orders, had promised release of the bond after ‘processing’, but has not done so after many weeks now.
What else from this shopper with so much burden one could cry: She reposts facebook requests for help from OFWs and others whom she doesn’t even know. She said she does it “to help them in that simple way”. A unionist in all but name!