Food Delivery App Riders Take Action in China After Leader 'Disappears'

2021-03-04
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Food Delivery App Riders Take Action in China After Leader 'Disappears' Restaurant workers in Shanghai prepare meals for app-based delivery in a file photo.
AFP

Food delivery riders are taking industrial action in China over low pay and the recent detention of an unofficial labor leader, RFA has learned.

"Meituan food delivery workers protest against lower rates by going on strike in Shenzhen," the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB) said on its Strike Map on Monday.

Hundreds of workers are demanding a pay increase and better conditions, it said.

The strike comes after Xiong Yan, who headed an unofficial union formed by workers for the food delivery app Ele.me and other services, was detained in Beijing last month. His whereabouts are still unknown.

According to several people familiar with the situation, Ele.me workers have been on a go-slow or refusing to work at all since Xiong's "disappearance," resulting in a sharp rise in timed-out orders.

A person familiar with the situation who gave only a surname, Zhang, said Ele.me riders are considering a nationwide strike on Monday to protest the platform's treatment of riders and Xiong's presumed detention.

"A group of their riders has been talking about going on all-out strike on March 8, but this could just be something they are talking about in their group chat rather than a decision by the alliance as a whole," Zhang told RFA.

"Emotions are running high right now, but posts on Weibo don't stay up long: they generally get deleted soon after they are posted," he said.

He said Ele.me isn't alone in making stringent demands of takeaway riders, who are treated as "self-employed" and have no employment rights.

"Delivery staff are just casual workers ... a lot of them don't even get contracts," he said. "They may wear the uniform, but they aren't on Ele.me's payroll."

"Instead they are hired by various dispatch companies in a form of outsourcing," Zhang said. "These platforms will find a number of excuses to deduct workers' pay."

More workers join campaign

Another person close to the situation, Hong Tao, said more riders were taking part in the "sabotage" campaign on Wednesday, but that it was hard to estimate the scale of the action.

"I think it happened in Beijing [on Wednesday], although specific details are hard to come by," Hong said.

According to a post on WeChat Moments by a Beijing-based delivery rider surnamed He, as many as 10,000 delivery riders in more than a dozen groups were involved in the campaign.

He said he had already quit the platform in protest at Xiong Yan's detention and started working for a different company.

Repeated calls to Ele.me's Shanghai headquarters rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.

Impossible targets for pay

On Dec. 21, 2020, Ele.me rider Han Mouwei collapsed and died while working in Beijing using the Hummingbird crowdsourcing app.

His relatives later found that only just over one third of a three-yuan monthly deduction Han had throught was for insurance actually bought into any policy, leading to questions over the purpose of the remaining deduction.

Last month, Ele.me apologized after its couriers accused the platform of setting impossible targets for holiday bonus pay over the Lunar New Year holiday period.

The company claimed to offer rewards for completing a set number of deliveries in several challenges in January, but the riders said the targets were impossible to reach.

The renewed industrial action comes as the U.K.'s Supreme Court ruled that drivers on Uber's ride-sharing app should be considered workers under U.K. employment law, meaning they are entitled to some employment benefits, including paid leave.

Uber had insisted that the drivers were independent contractors.

Reported by Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Han Qing for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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