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25 Aug 2019

Nick Aspinwall, The Nation (USA)

China: Food delivery workers complain about underpay, overwork and dangerous working conditions

“China’s Delivery Drivers Rage Against the Algorithm”, 21 August 2019

Underpaid and overworked, drivers for food delivery apps like Meituan and Ele.me are speaking out about brutal hours and dangerous conditions…

In China, the [food delivery] industry boom has been catalyzed by low delivery fees, aggressive marketing strategies, and a fleet of over 3 million drivers who are increasingly accustomed to poor safety conditions, decreasing wages, and fewer guarantees of consistent work.

In the first half of 2019, the Hong Kong–based China Labour Bulletin, which tracks labor movements in China, recorded 33 strikes by food delivery drivers, compared to 48 in all of 2018 and just eight in 2017, according to researcher Aiden Chau…

Aside from unannounced wage cuts, striking workers also reported being assigned impossibly short delivery times, leading to more road accidents involving delivery drivers. Independent contractors face liability should they get into a collision–and according to multiple drivers, they are docked pay, or suspended by the platform, if even a single order is late…

Ele.me, owned by tech giant Alibaba, and the Tencent-backed Meituan are already locked in a vicious price war to conquer the lion’s share of China’s roaring food delivery market. The companies… combine for a whopping 90 percent market share…  

These strategies have allowed China’s food delivery industry to grow three times larger than that of the United States, while keeping its delivery costs at around 10 to 20 percent of US standards—aided in large part by millions of low-wage workers, most of whom are hired as independent contractors and do not receive social benefits…

… food delivery is especially dangerous in China: Drivers for Meituan and Ele.me generally make less than $1 per order and break traffic rules to deliver them all on time… in Shanghai, 76 injuries and deaths of drivers had been recorded by police in the first half of 2017.

… Last summer, striking Meituan drivers complained that delivery times had been shortened and that the app’s built-in map assigned unsafe routes by showing distances far shorter than those shown by other online maps.”…

When reached for comment, Meituan said in a statement that it “has created millions of jobs” in China and “has made substantial effort to ensure the welfare and safety of delivery drivers in its network,” including providing periodic safety training and making it mandatory for drivers to be insured. Meituan also said it “leverages advanced technologies to make deliveries safer for riders,” such as smart scooters and headsets. Ele.me did not respond to multiple requests for comment…[Also referred to UberEats, Grubhub, Postmates, Caviar and Jasic Technology]

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China: Food delivery drivers complain of underpay, overwork and dangerous working conditions

China: Food delivery workers complain about being underpaid, overworked and forced to work in dangerous working conditions