Foodpanda and the Promotion of Precarious Work in the Philippines

Foodpanda and the Promotion of Precarious Work in the Philippines

Article by Fernan Talamayan.

Abstract: This preliminary study analyzes various issues surrounding Foodpanda, a popular online food and grocery delivery platform. Combining information on the platform’s scoring system with riders’ sentiments, the study unpacks contemporary technologies’ creation of new tools for exploitation and various allegations of unfair labor practices to expose the precarity of the riders’ work. Particular attention is given to technologies and policies that take advantage of the riders during the COVID-19 pandemic, identifying issues such as fake bookings or the unreasonable cancellation of confirmed orders, the unfavorable pay and working conditions, the endorsement of neoliberal governmentality, among others. The study found evidence of structural abuse embedded within the platform’s design. Foodpanda’s unjust payment schemes and inadequate action toward scams signify the platform’s failure to meet the needs and protect the welfare of their food delivery workers. Evidence analyzed in this preliminary work provides insights on how some platforms today are designed to meet capitalists’ insatiable desire for profit.

Keywords: Foodpanda, food delivery platform, neoliberal exploitation, governmentality, technology
Header image “2020-10-23 21.53.44” by albyantoniazzi is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.


Although technology today offers new opportunities for unemployed individuals, it may also play a vital role in promoting unjust trade practices. Yet, it is also wrong to blame technology alone for the emergence of new forms of exploitation. In every algorithm that guides the operation of modern technologies is a human actor or institution with personal biases and interests (Benjamin, 2019a; Benjamin 2019b; Seaver, 2017). If age-old societal problems can be embedded in technologies, then technologies can be used as avenues for examining the perpetuation of social injustices today. Hence, by underlining the function of technology in today’s capitalist economy, it becomes possible to spotlight the instrumentalization of technology in the protraction of precarious work.

In this view, digital platforms may serve as a springboard to exposing a company’s unfair labor practices and the precarity of the riders’ work. To this end, this preliminary study zooms into labor-related issues surrounding Foodpanda, one of the Philippines’ more popular online food and grocery delivery platforms. While this study attempts to give voice to riders’ concerns about unfavorable pay and working conditions, it also determines how contemporary platforms and their creators forge new tools for neoliberal exploitation. Particular attention is given to technologies and policies that take advantage of the riders during the pandemic, examining the vulnerability of food delivery workers to scams and unjust payment schemes.

Figure 1. “A Foodpanda driver in Mueang, Chiang Rai, Thailand” by Chainwit is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Apart from Thailand and the Philippines, Foodpanda also operates in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, and Taiwan.

Demanding fairness and transparency

Freelancing platforms offer a fix to enduring unemployment problems in countries like the Philippines. As the country struggles to provide employment to 3.76 million jobless Filipinos (see August 2021 Labor Force Survey by the Philippine Statistics Authority), platforms such as Foodpanda provide other means to feed and sustain families, especially to those displaced by the pandemic. Despite the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and the absence of worker benefits, some individuals turned to delivery platforms to address their financial needs (Hlongwa, 2020).

It is curious, however, that Foodpanda riders in the Philippines experienced drastic decreases in earnings as the demand for online food and grocery deliveries increased during the pandemic. According to a Foodpanda rider interviewed by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, riders in 2018 enjoyed hourly pay “regardless if they were allocated a ride or not” (Canivel, 2021). This arrangement was changed to a per delivery payment scheme, with a flat-rate pay of PHP 55 (USD 1.08) regardless of distance (Canivel, 2021). While the previous payment system offered fair income to Foodpanda riders, the company again implemented a different payment system n June 2020 in the name of better organization and fairness, resulting in a ridiculous pay of PHP 11.45 (USD 0.23) for an eight-kilometer ride (Bagaoisan, 2020). 

These unwelcome changes in the calculation of riders’ compensation led to two major protests—one in November 2020 and another in July 2021. The first happened in the country’s capital, where over a hundred riders gathered and went to the Department of Labor and Employment Office in Manila to complain about Foodpanda’s unjust payment schemes. The more recent protest took place in Davao City, a metropolis located in the country’s southern island Mindanao. Like the protest in Manila, Davao City riders demanded decent income and an improved rider fee structure. The incident in Davao City led to the ten-year suspension of at least 30 riders, as Foodpanda alleged that these riders violated a company agreement by calling for disruptions that may affect other riders, vendors, and customers (“Foodpanda stands by ‘offboarding’ protesting riders,” 2021). The company also imposed the same punishment on 70 other riders who decried the unfair offboarding of their fellow riders (Mendoza, 2021). As a “responsible business” to their vendor partners and customers, Foodpanda said that they highly value rider integrity and conduct—hence the “difficult” decision to hand out severe penalties (Rey, 2021).

Neoliberal governmentality

Apart from the meager pay rates, the riders also complained about the company’s batch system scoring, which generally measures riders’ effectiveness and determines their base earnings, incentives, and the volume of delivery requests they can receive. Following the platform’s scoring system, riders are classified according to their performance: batch one is named dedicated riders, batch two as excellent riders, batch three as good riders, batch four as average riders, batch five as inactive riders, and batch six as new riders. Such a structure differentiates a productive rider from a less effective rider, thus setting in place the mechanisms that reinforce neoliberal governmentality.

The system provides a higher base pay rate (see figure 1) and higher priority in selecting preferred shifts for riders in higher batches. Incentives per batch are shown in figure 2.

Figure 2. The text at the bottom reads, “Ang Batch 4 hanggang Batch 6 ay walang incentives” (Batch four to batch six have no incentives). Screenshot taken by the author from Foodpanda Philippines’ official website.

Foodpanda provides additional compensation to those in batches one to three, while those in batches four to six are not entitled to receive any incentives. Factors determining one’s batch designation are “no shows” or being absent despite confirming one’s shift and the total number of hours that riders actively accept and deliver orders during their shift. To help riders reach batch one, Foodpanda Philippines listed on their website six tips to improve rider scores:

  1. Pasukan lahat ng shifts na binook (Attend all booked shifts)
  2. Magbook ng maraming shifts (Book multiple shifts)
  3. Wag ma-late, at mag-break lamang kung kinakailangan (Do not be late, and take breaks only when necessary)
  4. Bilisan ang pagdeliver (Deliver quickly)
  5. Laging tignan ang Roadrunner, siguraduhing naka-on ang data at GPS, at i-accept ang order na darating (Always check Roadrunner, make sure data and GPS are turned on, and accept incoming orders) 
  6. Kumuha ng shifts sa mga special hours para sa city mo (Take shifts during special hours for your city).

To a certain extent, these tips provide riders a picture of an ideal Foodpanda rider: a tireless, devoted, and punctual individual who is self-aware and always ready to go the extra mile for work. However, these suggestions are easier said than done. Riders often complain about the difficulty of transitioning from one batch to the next. For instance, it takes two to four weeks before batch six riders can climb up the ladder. Riders who reach the top tier are always subject to demotion if they accept lesser deliveries in the next payment cycle. 

Another source of precariousness is the number of fake bookings (the unreasonable cancellation of confirmed orders) by fraudulent customers. In September 2020, a fake customer ordered food to an address in Las Piñas City, victimizing ten Foodpanda and GrabFood riders in the process (Antonio, 2020). Another incident in May 2021 involved five fake online orders in an unoccupied home in Quezon City (“More food delivery riders scammed,” 2021). In July 2021, two separate cases of delivery scams occurred: the first involved five fake bookings under the name of Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno (Jazul, 2021), and the second, which preyed on 23 food delivery riders, targeted the home of a local celebrity (Llemit, 2021a). While heartless customers conduct such activities, food delivery platforms are equally blamable for failing to build a platform that secures riders against delivery scams. Since fake bookings are counted as order cancelations, some riders are forced to pay the delivered goods out of their own pocket to avoid demotion, suspension, or even termination (Bagaoisan, 2020). 

Despite all the issues and risks mentioned here, many riders are left with no choice but to continue delivering goods under these platforms to meet their families’ everyday needs. Others are compelled to keep working to manage the debts they acquired from purchasing motorcycles (see Llemit, 2021b for other stories that tell riders’ deplorable situations). 

Although rider groups staged protests against Foodpanda, there were also some riders who argued against complaining. As Joel Camposano, a Foodpanda rider, shared in his YouTube channel (October 7, 2020):

Wala namang trabaho na bigla na lang tayong kikita ng malaki. Siempre kailangan nating pagtiyagaan. Pag nagreklamo naman kasi tayo wala rin namang mangyayari sa atin, wala namang aksyon na mangyayari, kaya ang gawin natin, sa sarili na lang natin umpisahan yung pagkuha ng mga schedule para may mapasukan tayo kasi mahirap na yung nasa bahay lang tayo. Ang pera nasa kalsada, para sa ating rider, ang pera nasa kalsada wala sa loob ng bahay. (No job will give us sudden significant earnings. Of course, we have to persevere. Because if we complain, nothing will happen to us, no action will happen, so we should instead start on our own to get the schedules so that we can receive bookings because it is difficult for us to be at home. The money is on the road—for us riders, the money is on the road [and] is not inside our homes.) (translated by the author).

This statement manifests an operation of neoliberal governmentality—a mentality that endorses compliance and makes individuals responsible for their well-being (see Hache 2007). When biopolitical power operates at the core of on-demand platforms, gig workers’ worth is measured according to their willingness to reconstitute themselves and their lives to become “productive economic agents” (Moisander, Groß, & Eräranta, 2017, p. 375). In this sense, it becomes possible to blame the rider alone for their lack of income. Calculative regimes of neoliberal governmentality suggest that individuals must learn how to spend their time and energy wisely: instead of complaining about harsh policies, one must work double shifts to earn a living; instead of rallying in the streets to demand improvements in rider pay structure, one must know how to “properly” conduct oneself to become a dedicated and excellent rider.


One of the root causes of the problem described in this preliminary study is the lack of platform transparency, as Foodpanda refuses to provide information about the rate per distance to its riders (Canivel, 2021). However, because of the harsh penalties for non-compliant riders and the difficulty of acquiring employment in the middle of the pandemic, Filipino Foodpanda riders are forced to accept unfavorable payment schemes and work conditions. In this regard, the study observed how some platform arrangements could be instrumental to users’ exploitation and oppression. Foodpanda rider experience also provides insights on how food delivery platforms promote neoliberal governmentality. With governmentality reproducing a mindset that platform workers are responsible for their welfare, people behind platforms become unaccountable for riders’ difficulties and lack of earnings.

While this work mainly centered on select policies and payment structures that riders protested during the pandemic, many other issues need to be unpacked to fully capture the plight of gig workers. Examples of such include inadequate insurance and hazard pay for riders, the expansion of delivery zones, the inability of riders to reject orders, and the illusion of flexibility, to name a few. Future works on the topic can also explore further the vulnerabilities of current delivery platform designs. One may look into their patents, which may help identify the gaps in the development of technologies and apps. As is the case in other forms of labor, realizing the technologies and mechanisms that breed injustices is a crucial step in advancing workers’ right to fair wages, as well as just, favorable, and safe work conditions.



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