A staple of the roads for years, motorcycle couriers find their business is booming amid the coronavirus pandemic in Turkey. As their numbers multiply, their race against time sparks traffic safety concerns. Especially in big cities, couriers pose a danger both to themselves, pedestrians and vehicles. Some drive through sidewalks to skip traffic though it is illegal to do so, others blatantly disregard traffic lights, often ending up in accidents.
They are not at fault, though. Experts of the flourishing sector blame subcontractors who cut corners and create harsh working conditions for causing these safety violations.
Most couriers work up to 15 hours a day, racing from one customer to another, carrying goods ordered from e-commerce websites and food from restaurants. A report by the Milliyet newspaper says very few couriers, particularly in Istanbul, have insurance. Instead of working directly for the companies, they work for subcontractors which serve these big e-commerce companies or restaurant chains. They earn per package they carry. Carrying as many packages as they can a day means more earnings, which sometimes amounts to $1,350 monthly (TL 12,000), pay, which is almost twice higher than average salaries.
Murat Tomris, head of the Istanbul Motorcycle Couriers Association, says the country’s most populated city has more than 50,000 couriers. Tomris told Milliyet that e-commerce companies and food delivery firms are hiring “anyone with a motorcycle and helmet.” “But most of these couriers do not wear helmets, nor properly maintain their vehicles. They drive on sidewalks, change lanes at random in violation of traffic rules. But these people have to rush to earn. They are paid regularly if they do not exceed the average delivery time of forty minutes,” Tomris says. He said couriers were becoming “modern slaves” and although they earn well, their salaries are halved because they have to pay their own taxes and insurance premiums. Mustafa Özdemir, who heads another association of couriers, says companies avoiding responsibility in traffic safety violations by hiring subcontractors further drives the dangerous trend. “Couriers do not have safety equipment and their inspections are lacking,” he said.
Nihat Özdemir, who heads the Federation of Akdeniz Motorcycle Couriers based in the southern province of Antalya, says the “current system” is pushing them to safety violations. “We are working late into night from early morning and have to race against the time. We have to deliver in time so that the customer will not complain. Every complaint by customers means a cut from payments per package,” he recently told Ihlas News Agency (IHA). “We ask companies to end the scoring system. This is something open to exploitation by customers, who sometimes file complaint even without any delay,” he said. Unlicensed couriers also pose a risk for them, Özdemir says. “In Antalya, we have more than 2,000 licensed couriers but also more than 20,000 people working without a license. This causes competition and makes the job harder for couriers,” he said. He also complained that some companies do not want to provide maintenance fees for motorcycles and desperate couriers had to consent to maintaining them with their own funds.