Wage Cuts Drive China's Online Food Delivery Workers to Strike

Wage Cuts Drive China's Online Food Delivery Workers to Strike
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG

What you need to know

Workers around China are protesting against wages cuts and poor working conditions amid cut-throat competition in the online food delivery market.

There have been at least 15 strikes and protests by food delivery workers in China since May 1 as increased competition among delivery platforms has drastically reduced workers’ take-home pay.

CLB’s Strike Map has recorded protests by food delivery workers across the whole of China in Yunnan, Jiangsu, Shandong, Zhejiang, Chongqing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Jilin, Hunan, Guangxi and Shanxi.

Most recently, on June 4, workers contracted to food delivery giant Meituan in the northern city of Taiyuan staged a work stoppage in protest at a wide range of issues including pay levels, delivery times, insurance and high accident rates.

The majority of the recent protests have indeed been by delivery workers for market leader Meituan, a company currently valued at around US$40 billion but which seems determined to squeeze every last cent out of its workforce.

Following a two-day strike by more than a hundred Meituan workers in Chongqing on May 16 and 17, the Chongqing Evening News talked to the protesting workers about their long list of grievances.

The workers were individual contractors rather than being employed directly by Meituan itself but their pay and conditions of employment were determined by the Meituan online platform.

Many of the workers said they were initially attracted to the food delivery business because they were promised the freedom to choose the orders they wished to take. However, a new version of the app released on 10 May penalized workers who refuse to take orders even if the route and timing make completion of the delivery virtually impossible.

The payment per kilometer has been continually reduced with the lowest single journey payment now reportedly just 3.6 yuan (US$0.56).The rate for a journey of 3 km is 6 yuan, and delivery times have been reduced from 40 to 36 minutes, while fines for late delivery have been increased.

All the while, drivers have to pay for fuel costs, vehicle repairs and their own phone bills. Many say they can no longer earn enough to support their families.

A 3-yuan fee for accident and medical insurance is automatically deducted from the driver’s account each day but drivers say the insurance company will not pay out if they do not have a valid licence and registration (many don’t and Meituan is fully aware of this) or were driving illegally, which they often do in order to complete their delivery on time.

Drivers also complained of discrepancies between the Meituan app’s route and distance calculator and other popular online maps. The drivers alleged that the distances recorded on the app are much less than, for example, on Baidu Maps and that Meituan does not take into account traffic regulations when suggesting routes.

Workers say that when they complain about these unfair practices in WeChat groups and other online platforms, they can have their accounts frozen or permanently deleted. With no other avenues of redress available to them, their only option is to go out on strike.

The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The piece was first published by China Labour Bulletin and can be found here.

TNL Editor: David Green