Brazilian delivery worker faces daily fear of coronavirus infection

When the clock strikes ten in the morning, Matheus Martinez, 27, is already riding his bicycle, carrying a big square backpack and cycling through the streets of Porto Alegre, in the south of Brazil.

Since 2018, the musician has been making food deliveries through apps andtoday, this is his main source of income.

Matheus is one of the “gig economy” workers who are unable to work from home and find themselves facing every day the fear of contracting the novel coronavirus.

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When the clock strikes ten in the morning, Matheus Martinez, 27, is already riding his bicycle, carrying a big square backpack and cycling through the streets of Porto Alegre, in the south of Brazil.

Since 2018, the musician has been making food deliveries through apps and today, this is his main source of income.

Matheus is one of the “gig economy” workers who are unable to work from home and find themselves facing every day the fear of contracting the novel coronavirus.

“I am afraid of dying (even) if I don’t belong to any of the groups who are most at risk, but I need to go out and work”, he said. He rides his bike an average of 40 to 60 kilometers between the neighbourhoods of Azenha and Partenon on a daily basis.

“Before (the pandemic), I used to work more at nights but today, the days are kind of similar, I think probably because people are at home”, he said.

With the coronavirus outbreak in Brazil, Martinez soon turned his attention to following safe hygiene practices during deliveries.

The package handles, for example, were his first concern. Always carrying alcohol gel and sterilizing his hands when arriving to pick up the food from the restaurants, Martinez explained that this behavior change was his main defense against infection.

He emphasized that most of the restaurants had adapted to the new situation, by putting in place new hygiene practices. Some of them offered latex gloves, hand sanitizers and created a specific area at the restaurant where the backpacks can be washed.

Martinez said he had not received, however, any items provided by the food delivery companies that would help him to protect himself. He tried to buy face masks, but they weren’t available in the pharmacies. The solution to his problem came on 11 April when, in a gesture of solidarity, his roommate’s mother gave him a handmade mask.

“I need to bear the costs of every item that I have to buy to protect myself,” he said “The only thing I received (from the companies) was instructions on what to do when making a delivery”.

One of the recommendations was to avoid entering the buildings or houses, and wait for the customers at the entrance.

“If I enter the building and I’m coming from the street, I may end up touching a lot of surfaces that other people will touch”, he pointed out.

“So customers are now going to the door, and I think that is really cool. People are aware of the pandemic”, he added.

The delivery workers are paid for each delivery that they make . Since the coronavirus outbreak, Martinez said that he has been receiving more tips. “This is a very big help, because with the increase in tips, it’s like getting paid for an extra delivery”.

When he meets with other delivery workers, Martinez said that he rarely has a conversation about the pandemic. “ Our conversations revolve around financial issues, after all, that’s why we can’t stay at home, he said.

The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the inequalities that already exist in all countries, from the risk of being infected by the virus, to the chance of staying alive or dealing with the dramatic economic consequences.

In this scenario, the countries’ political responses must ensure that support reaches the workers and companies that need it most, said the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Worldwide, 61.2% of employed workers are in informal jobs and are therefore more likely to face bigger exposure to health and safety risks, according to the organization.

ILO recommends that income support for the workers should be carried out through a non-contributory social security plan or existing income transfer programmes.

Vinícius Pinheiro, ILO regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, indicated that there would be a sharp deterioration in employment and income levels in Latin American countries in view of the effects of the pandemic.

“We face an emergency that is infecting the world of work and it’s now a priority to act effectively to reduce the consequences on the region’s labor markets”, said Pinheiro.