Fancy addresses don't guarantee tips, it's the "simple" customers who give extra, GrabFood rider Carlos Cesista said, describing what it's like to be an economic frontliner during the pandemic while helping build Grab as Southeast Asia's super app.
Cesista feels like his own boss, serving as the bridge between BGC's trendy restaurants and corporate slaves cocooned in their skyscrapers. It's a job that got him through COVID while feeding his two babies.
"Alam niyo po, mas may nagbibigay ng tip sa mga simpleng lugar. Kahit sabihin mo iskwater 'yan. Mas dun pa nagbibigay ng pagkain at pera," he told reportr in an interview arranged by Grab to give customers a peek at a day in the life of one of their partners, one of the main activities in their annual "Buwan ng Tagapaghatid" that covers the month of November.
In the gig economy, the 31-year-old said he found his calling, one that also pays higher than the many odd jobs he took since he was orphaned at 17 and dropped out of college.
"Ang maganda kasi dito, nakukuha mo agad 'yung mismong pangangailangan mo. 'Di katulad 'nung minimum wage ka, pagdating ng sahod, kalahati ipambabayad mo na ng utang. Dito, meron ka kaagad pera, wala ka pang amo," he told reportr.
For the day's challenge, Grab provided us with a partner's daily work tools that include a smartphone with rider-dedicated Grab apps and mobile data, P2,000 pocket money in case of cash transactions, and a thermal delivery bag. For two hours, we waited for a booking and hoped to finish a delivery within that 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. window.
But no order ever came. What went down instead was a discussion on the realities riders like him face on the road on any given day, especially during a pandemic that has made the job doubly difficult.
Life as a delivery rider under COVID
Cecista said it was no coincidence he was there accompanying me for the activity. Alongside nine other Grab driver and delivery-partners, including the viral rider from the "lugaw is essential" fiasco, he was chosen by the company for his "unique" story: he got COVID while in transit.
"Halos buong pamilya ko nagka-COVID nitong September. 'Nung una nga 'di ako naniniwala sa COVID kasi dati naman nagkakasakit tayo--lagnat, sipon...Pero nagulat ako talaga 'nung nawala pang-amoy at panlasa ko kasi wala naman akong sipon," he said.
Having gotten only his first dose of the vaccine, Cecista said he, his wife and 8-month-old child were lucky they were only asymptomatic. The experience could've been worse had his 3-year-old, whose immune system is weak, also caught the virus.
He received financial assistance from Grab worth P7,500 to augment the earnings he lost for the 25 days he spent in quarantine. This was a huge help, he said, but also admitted the money could only go so far. "Siyempre ako lang kumikita samin so 'nung nakaquarantine kaming lahat, kain-tulog maghapon lang. Parang lumipad lang 'yung pera," he said.
On average, Cecista said he would earn up to P1,400 if he completes at least 20 deliveries in a 12-hour work day. He used to earn the same amount for only 8 hours on the road. But since the pandemic, when food delivery companies are supposedly booming, riders like him found themselves having a harder time.
Their incentives, given in the form of "gems" per delivery completed, also reduced in worth. "Incentives pa lang 'yun. Labas pa sa kita mo, so sobrang laking tulong kasi siyempre sagot mo pa gas." Hence, tips from customers are greatly appreciated, he said.
"Dati kasi, 'di ganito. Minsan 'di ka pa nagdrodrop ng item, may papasok na na order sayo," he added, noting this may be due remote workers opting to cook their own food. "Pero dumami na rin kasi talaga 'yung riders. So tulad ngayon, wala ka pang booking, ano nalang kikitain mo?"
With all the waiting he does in a day, the clock is Cecista's master. When he's not waiting, he's rushing to deliver an order for a five-star rating that could very well determine how quick bookings would come in next time.
"Ang kalaban diyan 'yung paghihintay talaga. Oras natin tumatakbo 'yan pero kung walang booking maghapon, siyempre walang kikitain. 'Yung iba umaabot talaga ng hatinggabi kesa naman diba umuwi ka sa bahay, 'tas wala ka maibibigay," he said.
"Kahapon nga, alas dose hanggang alas kuwatro, walang pumasok na booking so umuwi nalang ako sa bahay. Nagulat nga mga anak ko, eh. Kapag 'di talaga bumabyahe, inuubos ko nalang oras ko sa kanila," he added.
What's the future like for a delivery rider?
While the flexibility the gig economy offers is a key advantage for those who refuse to be tied down to an office shift, there is increasing clamor for job security and statutory benefits. The proposed Freelance Protection Act spells out the rights and benefits of workers in the freelance and gig economy such as night shift differential and hazard pay.
Within Grab, employees said its company tries to hear out rider concerns through immersions. The company's co-founder and group CEO Anthony Tan earlier went viral for going undercover as a rider.
"Maraming concerns 'yung riders na makikita mo sa chat eh. Makikita mo comments nila, mga nobela, and we try to take it all in, right? Pero when you're able to do it on ground, alam mo ano talaga sinasabi nila," Joshua Macapugay, a Grab Driver Communications Associate who also took part in the activity, told reportr.
For Cesista, working for Grab is much better than in other delivery services, or even any other company that have him earning as little as P537 a day, which would never be enough for a growing family of four.
"Mas maganda talaga sana 'yung may benefits. Pero pinili ko na to eh, so panindigan ko na 'to. Kahit papano dito, nakakapag-loan ako tsaka hawak ko agad pera ko. Tapos kapag may lakad, pwede ka lang di mag duty, pero 'yun nga lang, wala ka kikitain," he said.
"Wala na ako plano para sa sarili ko. Sa daming bayarin kasi halos hindi mo na iniisip talaga kahit 'yung pahinga. Plano ko nalang para sa mga anak ko," he added.
"Risky lang talaga trabaho ng mga rider sobra kasi kapag nadisgrasya ka, sagot mo sarili mo. Pero iniisip ko na lang, naghahatid ako ng mga pagkain na masasarap sa mga tao araw-araw kahit 'yung kinakain ko lang pares. Basta ano, pinagsisilbihan ko yung mga tao at pamilya ko."