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Delivery rider’s family wins large payout after he was killed in landmark decision for gig economy

The struggling family of a food delivery man hit by a bus in Sydney will receive massive damages in a decision that could change Australia’s gig economy.

More than $830,000 in employee death benefits will go to the widow and children of HungryPanda worker Xiaojun Chen.

The occupational accident insurer ruled that 43-year-old Mr Chen was an employee of the service rather than a contractor at the time of his death.

Chen left behind a wife, two children and a 75-year-old father in China. The family depended on Mr Chen’s income for their livelihood and waited for his return to the country to start a family business.

Under the NSW Workers Compensation Scheme, the family will receive the huge lump sum, as well as weekly payments of up to $149 for each child until they are both 16 years old.

The decision could pave the way for future workers’ compensation claims in a similar vein and will provide an impetus for unions to give thousands of workers in food delivery services better protection and guaranteed labor standards.

Delivery drivers are generally not eligible for compensation because they are technically contractors and not employees of the delivery companies.

Mr Chen was hit by a bus while at work (pictured right with his wife, left and son in the middle) while his family waited in China to start a family business with the money he made in Australia

Mr Chen was hit by a bus while at work (pictured right with his wife, left and son in the middle) while his family waited in China to start a family business with the money he made in Australia

So far, no families of other delivery drivers have received compensation for workers in New South Wales following a death at work

So far, no families of other delivery drivers have received compensation for workers in New South Wales following a death at work

In a statement, Chen’s widow, Lihong Wei, said her husband’s death was heartbreaking and a huge blow to the family.

“My children miss their daddy every day. My daughter is starting to struggle with school and my son lost his father forever when he was only eight years old. My father-in-law has lost his only son. Nothing can ever solve this.’

The widow, her father-in-law and her children waited for Chen to earn enough money to return to China before being fatally hit by a bus in Sydney’s southern suburb of Zetland in 2020.

Delivery workers are generally not eligible for employee rights because they are contractors of the services they work for rather than employees

Delivery workers are generally not eligible for employee rights because they are contractors of the services they work for rather than employees

Now that dream will never come true. The grief my children, their grandparents and myself are feeling cannot be put into words,” said Ms. Wei.

However, the historic decision will bring some comfort to the family. Ms Wei hopes it will help other riders in the Australian service industry by “bringing respect and recognition to all food delivery drivers for the essential service they provide”.

Gig workers — including food delivery drivers and ride-sharing drivers — have no salaries or permanent contracts and usually work flexibly, paid for whatever job they complete.

There is no industry-standard minimum wage, no guarantee of workers’ compensation or unfair dismissal protection for couriers at food delivery companies.

Mr. Chen's family hopes the iCare insurance agent's agreement that Mr. Chen was

Mr. Chen’s family hopes the iCare insurance agent’s agreement that Mr. Chen was “employed” by HungryPanda at the time of his death paves the way for more employee guarantees in the gig economy

Food delivery drivers also don’t get paid sick leave or automatic super contributions, because they aren’t classified as employees.

However, Slater and Gordon’s compensation decision could lead to changes in the status of delivery drivers in the future.

Jasmina Mackovic, leader of Slater and Gordon’s practice group, said the decision by iCare employee insurance’s insurance agent, Employers Mutual Limited, was “groundbreaking”.

“To our knowledge, this is the first case where a gig economy driver is admitted to be an employee,” Ms Mackovic said.

“Gig economy workers and their families usually don’t get any rights because they’re viewed as independent contractors rather than employees.

“This also means that employees or their families are not guaranteed loss of wages, medical payments or a lump sum for any damages suffered if they are injured or ill, or even in the event of death, as happened here.”

The death of Mr Chen in 2020, along with those of four other delivery guys in a three-month period, saw the Labor party – then in the opposition – pledge to legislate for greater protections for gig workers.

Now Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also made pledges during the federal election campaign to increase protections for handymen.

The TWU’s national secretary, Michael Kaine, said the compensation will not cure the family, but will go a long way toward “correcting a terrible mistake” and strengthening labor relations laws for courier workers.

“The Albanian government has pledged to take action and urgent action is needed to lift the standards and protect workers. Authorizing an independent body to set enforceable standards for all employees, regardless of their label, will go to the heart of the exploitation that makes food delivery so deadly,” he said.

Daily Mail Australia is not suggesting that HungryPanda is in any way responsible for Mr Chen’s death.

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