The Knesset’s Sub-Committee for the Promotion of Road Safety erupted this week, rightly so, after it was revealed that 80 people have been injured in the past three years in road accidents involving couriers, according to nonprofit Or Yarok (“Green Light”), which combats road accidents in Israel. 

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“Couriers are always in a hurry,” said Or Yarok representative, Oz Dror, at the meeting. “This thing [gig employment] makes them commit a lot of traffic offenses.”

In his opinion, the responsibility lies first and foremost with the courier companies. What Dror and the committee members missed is that in practice, the courier companies, led by Wolt, not only shrug off the responsibility for the road accidents but even worse, encourage the unruly speeding of the couriers due to the unique nature of employment.

Lior Shachar-Selvin, the widow of the late Eyal Selvin, a Wolt courier who was killed in a car accident about a year ago, said in an interview with Davar: “You undergo online instruction for a few hours and that is all the training [you receive]. Operating the app requires a lot of involvement with the phone, they have to signal a lot of things. Their time equals money and it's dangerous.”

“Add two minutes to the schedule,” she requested from Wolt. “This is the difference between whether the courier will finish their cigarette, take a sip of water, and not run a red light, not race off straight to the next delivery.”

Wolt, the largest courier company in Israel, under which thousands of couriers work, is not responsible for the couriers’ vehicles and refrains from paying social benefits, maintenance, fuel or any other associated costs. The courier communicates with the company solely through the application, and for each delivery, they receive 18 shekels as a base and an additional shekel for deliveries that exceed a kilometer.

This is why the couriers are in a hurry; they receive payment according to the number of deliveries, and the more deliveries they do, the more money they earn. This is the system. Each order is accompanied by a timer integrated into the application, tracking when the delivery arrives, and a GPS visualization that shows exactly where the courier is. The rationale is that this system rewards the driver with a more generous tip from the customer for faster delivery, and on the company's side allows the customer a “fast delivery experience.” Thus, in practice, the company encourages the couriers to arrive as quickly as possible – even if doing so means running a red light.

However, terms of employment and labor relations are not just social rights. It is the difference between an employee having someone to turn to when they have a problem or mishap, or being left on their own. It means that the laws of working hours and rest apply to them, that they receive an hourly wage and do not have to make another delivery for a few more shekels. It means that there is also someone who supervises them.

As the “gig economy” thrives, it will produce more people invisible to society, who will break traffic laws and risk their lives for a few more shekels. Because that’s what a person does when no one sees them.

This article was translated to English by Jonathan Epstein.