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China's food delivery gig workers are driving a $208B business, but couriers have it as bad as factory workers

Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert   

China's food delivery gig workers are driving a $208B business, but couriers have it as bad as factory workers
  • China's food delivery market has doubled in size over the last three years, Nikkei Asia reported.
  • Despite booming business, gig workers driving the industry told the outlet they face poor working conditions.

Gig workers in China are the driving force behind the country's booming food delivery market, which has doubled over the last three years to 1.5 trillion yuan, or $208 billion, according to a report from Nikkei Asia.

However, the laborers behind the surging industry face conditions similar to those in the country's factories, facing low wages, long hours, and risky, repetitive work, according to numerous reports.

In China, the average salary for a factory worker is 28 yuan per hour, or $3.94, according to statistics from the Economic Research Institute.

Lu, a 19-year-old Meituan delivery driver in Guangzhou, told Nikkei Asia he earned just 7 yuan per delivery, less than a dollar. He averaged about 30 deliveries daily, making his wages lower than employees at a local factory in Guanzhou, the outlet reported.

"I was only allowed two days off per month and couldn't visit home," Lu, who quit the job after six months to return to his home province, told the outlet. "This job is very difficult."

One courier in Shanghai told Wired the frequency of motorbike accidents he witnessed on the job caused him anxiety while driving and that he frequently had to work 12-hour days, completing 50 to 60 orders to make ends meet.

In the US, delivery drivers average $17.10 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The problem is so bad even the Chinese government is stepping in to enforce new guidelines that major gig-work employers — like Meituan and Didi Chuxing — must adhere to to ensure ride-share and delivery drivers can take time off and earn enough to stick to minimum wage laws, per the South China Morning Post.

Authorities with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security have found "pronounced problems" in the industry, including excessive working hours, minimum wage violations, and a lack of resources to report rights violations, SCMP reported.

The apps have tried to force the couriers to work faster by narrowing delivery windows, which Wired noted has correlated with a rise in police reports of traffic accidents involving couriers and has prompted some drivers to fight back.

Some laborers have taken to organizing through WeChat groups to identify and collectively refuse to deliver to difficult-to-navigate locations, such as large buildings requiring elevators or gated communities, per Wired.

They "know it is impossible to deliver in the time expected by the platform," Tiziano Bonini from the University of Siena, who has been studying gig work in China, told the outlet. "So they organize these kinds of collective rejections until that order comes back with a higher price."


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