Good times are over for gig economy drivers and riders in post-pandemic Malaysia

Gig drivers and riders are now earning less than what they used to make during the Covid-19 pandemic. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

GEORGE TOWN, Penang – The dream of making thousands of ringgit a month as a gig driver or food delivery rider is over.

Higher competition, the end of Covid-19-linked movement restrictions, and changes in fee structures mean that gig drivers and riders are now earning less than what they used to make during the pandemic.

“The time for that is over, especially for delivery riders who used to make thousands of ringgit a month just because eating out was not allowed during the pandemic (lockdowns),” said sociologist Chin Yee Whah of Universiti Sains Malaysia.

“Taking up gigs is worse than being caught in a middle-income trap, because as more people join, the income for a driver or delivery rider becomes much lower.”

Professor Chin said it was understandable for youth today to be caught up in materialism and the desire for instant gratification, which has resulted in them – especially the recent post-SPM cohort – leaning towards gig jobs that offer what would seem like a handsome income in the beginning.

SPM, or Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, is equivalent to the O levels in Singapore.

In May, a survey by a private university found that 49 per cent of SPM school-leavers did not plan on furthering their studies, and 26 per cent of them said they planned to be e-hailing drivers or delivery riders.

“It won’t work. Even if you spend over 10 hours a day on that kind of work and earn as much as RM4,000 (S$1,170) a month, when you fall in love and get married and try to raise a family, you will find yourself stuck in a circle with no chance for growth,” Prof Chin warned.

He said it was now time for teachers and community leaders to mentor young people on the need to seek out careers and skills, and to patiently enhance these skills to get a footing in life.

He urged youth who were not academically inclined to take up skills training.

“If you are a plumber, electrician or air-conditioning repairman, you earn RM50 upon arrival at any home and after you do your work, you are making upwards of RM150.

“As you keep up with technology, you earn more and you can someday own your own company.

“If you are a driver or delivery rider, this would be impossible,” he added.

Civil servant Hisyam Yusuf, 35, who works part-time as an e-hailing driver, admitted that it has been difficult to compete with other drivers during peak hours.

“So many drivers would be out on the streets to reap the peak-hour rates.

“Add traffic congestion and passengers who cancel their requests while we are on our way there, and it becomes difficult to earn a stable income from e-hailing,” he said, urging youth not to opt for low-skilled jobs in the gig economy in search of quick money.

“This will hamper your long-term career prospects,” he said.

Another gig driver, Mr Moses Chin, 29, said that when e-hailing started several years ago, the income was lucrative, even for part-timers.

“When I started five years ago, I could earn about RM1,000 per week if I drove consistently during weekends and nights,” he said.

However, he said, the different pricing structures used by ride-sharing companies, including rates during rush hour and weekends, do not favour drivers now.

“Sometimes, when I wait (at the) Komtar (complex in George Town) during peak hours, I can get only one or two trips an hour because there are so many other drivers available in the same area,” said Mr Chin, who drives part-time at night and at weekends to supplement his income as a technician.

“For school-leavers who want to take this up full time, think twice. You’ll regret your decision,” added Mr Chin, urging them to instead find high-value and high-skilled jobs.

Newly married Iqbal Syamil Hamdan, 24, became an e-hailing driver after he was retrenched in 2022.

“I was clueless when I got retrenched last year. Looking for a new job was so difficult. I knew I had to do something, and working as an e-hailing driver gave me the best option to continue earning an income,” said Mr Iqbal, who now earns about RM1,500 a month as a full-time e-hailing driver after deducting all expenses.

“But I know I can’t do this forever.” THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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