Some freelancers 'stung' by Honestbee's rate cuts

Going to supermarkets, picking groceries, choosing the shifts you like and earning up to $14 an hour as a personal "shopper bee" sounds ideal.

But some of the freelance shoppers for local online grocery concierge honestbee say that all is not well in the hive.

Unexpected cuts to basic rates, late or incomplete payments and a lack of communication with management are among the grouses that were raised by the shoppers.

While the company advertises on its website that one can rake in up to $14 an hour, the shoppers said they hit this rate rarely - perhaps during festive periods - or not at all.

Banking and finance university student Nicole Lee, 23, said shoppers are paid a basic rate of $5 an hour - down from around $7.50 last year, and $6 before last month.

They earn extras through "line-item bonuses", or 20 cents for each different type of item picked for an order.

Ms Lee said: "The $14 per hour is unachievable, except during Chinese New Year."

She added that working over festive periods meant picking groceries non-stop for 12 hours and "back-breaking work", such as carrying 10kg of packet drinks per order.

Another shopper, Kelly Tan, 40, said she could earn about $400 a week last year for 20 to 30 hours' work but now earns about $150 to $200 after the rate cuts.

She is also not reimbursed for calling customers on her mobile phone, which can cost about $70 a month.

Honestbee shoppers also said that their pay, which is credited to them weekly, has often been late by a few days and not tallied accurately.

These discrepancies have ranged from a few dollars to more than $600 once for a 43-year-old female shopper.

Honestbee chief executive and co-founder Joel Sng, 33, said shoppers' pay fluctuates depending on customer demand.

He added that a shopper earns an average of $9.70 per hour, which is "significantly higher than the typical part-time pay of $7 per hour in similar industries".

He admitted there were "a few instances" when payments were delayed but said these were resolved in one working day.

Honestbee now has so many shoppers - more than 1,800 - that they had to be moved to a holding company in February to better manage them, he added.

The company aims to double the number of shoppers by the end of the year.

Most of the 10 shoppers interviewed said that, despite their displeasure with the company, they wanted to stay on as they needed flexible hours.

A 38-year-old shopper who is expecting his firstborn son "any day now" said he could not start a full-time job and take paternity leave at the same time.

He declined to be named but said: "Our medical costs are rising and we are barely making ends meet as it is."

As freelancers, they are not covered by Employment Act.

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