The family of a Happy Panda delivery rider killed in Sydney in 2020 will receive more than $800,000 under the NSW workers’ compensation scheme, in what the union says is the first case where a gig economy worker has been considered an employee.
Xiaojun Chen was killed after being struck by a bus while riding his motorbike in the Sydney suburb of Zetland on 29 September 2020, while working for Hungry Panda.
The Personal Injury Commission this month found that the 43-year-old had died from injuries sustained in the course of his employment with Hungry Panda. Employers Mutual Limited, an iCare workers’ compensation scheme insurance agent, agreed Chen was an employee when he died.
The Transport Workers’ Union says this is the first case of its kind where a gig worker has been found to be an employee in relation to workers’ compensation.
Under the NSW workers’ compensation scheme, the dependents of an employee who dies because of a work-related injury are entitled to a lump-sum payment of just over $834,000 and weekly payments of $149.30 for each dependent child until the age of 16. Chen left behind a wife, two children and his 75-year-old father.
Jasmina Mackovic, practice group leader at Slater and Gordon who represented the family in the case, said: “To our knowledge, this is the first case where there has been an admission that a gig economy driver has been considered a worker.”
“Gig economy workers and their families are usually denied any entitlements because they are considered independent contractors rather than employees, meaning they are unable to access workers’ compensation and other benefits, such as annual leave and sick leave.”
Chen’s widow, Lihong Wei, said in a statement the decision would bring “respect and recognition to all food delivery workers for the essential service they provide”.
Chen is from a small village in rural China, and the family had planned to return to China to open a business together to support his family, who he was sending money back to before he was killed.
“Now that dream will never be realized. The grievance my children, their grandparents and myself feel cannot be put into words,” Wei said.
“My children miss their daddy every day. My daughter has begun struggling with school and my son has lost his father forever at just eight years old. My father in-law has lost his only son. Nothing can ever fix this.”
Michael Kaine, national secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union, said after two long years justice had been delivered for Chen’s family.
“No family should have to experience the indescribable grievance of losing a loved one at work. While no amount of compensation will truly heal the loss Xioajun’s family feels, this decision goes a long way towards righting a horrible wrong,” he said.
“The Albanese government has committed to action and must move urgently to lift standards and protect workers. Empowering an independent body to set enforceable standards for all workers regardless of their label will strike at the heart of the exploitation making food delivery so deadly.”
Guardian Australia sought comment from Hungry Panda.