The COVID-19 pandemic has put food delivery drivers in the spotlight and made them essential workers during lockdowns. They played a crucial role helping authorities and people maintain the social distance during the suspension of commercial activities across Muscat like the rest of the world.
Delivery drivers didn’t just help people stay at home by delivering their food, but were also a reason for the survival of many restaurants that had to face hardship due to preventive measures and lockdowns.
Though not considered essential workers by most people, they risked their own health crisscrossing the city during movement bans delivering lunches and dinners.
Heroes, not just drivers
“We train our delivery drivers to reduce contact while delivering food parcels. Protocol demands they keep the parcel on a foldable stool that is provided to them, ring the doorbell and maintain two-meter distance,” said Gaurav Nahar, CEO of Akeed Delivery.
Akeed’s delivery persons are also required to take a selfie wearing a mask and gloves, and share it with their team supervisor before setting out for a delivery. “We have been advertising and raising awareness on the importance of wearing a mask for both our delivery drivers and the customers on social media. We have also added small elements in our mobile app, like an animated delivery driver and a customer wearing a mask. These small touches have an impact on awareness among customers about the COVID-19 social distancing measures,” Nahar said.
Abdullah (name changed on request) works for a food delivery company as a freelancer. Besides the fear of getting infected with the virus, his problem was the fewer working hours due to movement bans and payments through cards.
“Due to the pandemic, most customers pre-pay for their order with cards and ask us to leave the food parcel near their door. This leaves no room for me to earn any extra cash in tips.”
Abdullah used to make RO20 a month in tips when customers paid cash on delivery, while Faris al Hashmi, another deliveryman, rarely got any tips. Cash-on-delivery or prepaid delivery made no difference to him. In fact, he prefers prepaid and card payments as these are faster. “With cash payments, finding the right change is always a pain,” he said.
Hashmi is a full-time delivery driver and believes he was lucky to get work during the lockdown.
“There were more orders because people did not have other options.”
He was, however, affected during the earlier lockdown when food delivery was not allowed.
“It hurt me financially because I got paid per order. Especially during Ramadan, on many days there were no orders and at night, the movement ban was in place. That was the toughest period for me.”
Since food delivery was included in the essential work category and exempted from the movement ban during lockdowns, it has been easier for Hashmi.
He claimed he isn’t afraid of getting infected with COVID-19.
“I am young and I follow all the safety protocols.”
Sabra al Rahbi is a rarity in Oman as she bridges the gender divide by working in a profession dominated by men. She works from 9am to 6pm in a hotel call centre and supplements her earnings by moonlighting as a food delivery driver from 8pm. As per the delivery company’s policy, she has to work a minimum of five hours a day.
“I follow all the necessary COVID-19 preventive protocols,” Sabra said, admitting that initially she worried about having to deal with difficult customers considering she works at night. “Alhamdulillah, I haven’t had any unpleasant experiences. People are polite and show respect.”
It’s been close to two years now since she took a 30 per cent cut in pay.
“I have two kids, a two-year old and a three-month-old infant, and my husband is also facing a salary deduction problem. So I took up a part-time job to help our financial situation.”
Boon for some, bane for others
Hashmi sees lockdowns as a boon for food delivery platforms. People who never ordered food online earlier were compelled to do so due to lockdowns.
For Sabra, delivering food during lockdowns was easier because there was no traffic. “There were more deliveries, so more earnings.”
Since August 21 when the night movement ban ended, she has fewer deliveries to make.
But for Abdullah, the end of the night lockdown is good news. Being a freelancer, he doesn’t need permission to deliver food when there’s no movement ban, so he can work longer hours.
The more he delivers, the more he earns.
“Restaurants now realise that food delivery is a sure-shot way to get some business. Also, it is the safest way to reach customers. Without delivery drivers, it is not possible,” Nahar said.
(Text by Syed Fasiuddin)