Chinese courier sets fire to protest Alibaba’s unpaid wages

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A delivery driver who had worked for Alibaba set himself on fire in protest over unpaid wages, in the latest incident highlighting allegations of mistreatment of workers in China’s burgeoning take-out industry.

The drivers were hailed as heroes for continuing to deliver food while much of the country was in lockdown at the height of the coronavirus crisis last year. The take-out industry grew rapidly in 2020, with food delivery revenues at Meituan, the tech group, up 33% year-on-year to 20.7 billion rmb (3.2 billion rmb). dollars) in the third quarter. But the pay per order for couriers has fallen in recent years, according to China Labor Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based workers’ rights group.

Social media posts Monday showed Liu Jin, a 45-year-old driver, immediately set fire to himself next to a Meituan delivery scooter in the eastern city of Taizhou. Videos shared on social media showed people rushing towards the man to put out the fire with fire extinguishers. “I want to get my blood and sweat back,” Mr. Liu said, covered in ashes.

Mr. Liu worked for Ele.me, Alibaba’s food delivery platform, but recently registered with Meituan, according to two people with first-hand knowledge of the situation. Mr. Liu experienced a salary dispute with Ele.me’s local driver partner when he tried to quit, one of the people said. He then decided to ignite in protest.

Mr. Liu now faces more than 1 million rmbh in medical bills to treat third degree burns on 80% of his body, according to a crowdfunding page set up by his daughter.

“Sometimes food delivery couriers are forced to do multiple applications to deliver for both Ele.me and Meituan to see if they would get more than just sticking to one platform,” Jenny said. Chan, assistant professor of sociology in Hong Kong. Polytechnic University, which studies work and automation.

Ms Chan added that the platforms tend to initially launch orders at very low prices and gradually increase them. “The individual couriers are pitted against each other,” she said.

Aidan Chau, of the China Labor Bulletin, said a constant supply of drivers has increased the power of tech groups. “This is why platforms can increase the work intensity of workers while reducing their wages at the same time,” he said.

Chinese tech companies have also outsourced much of the process of hiring and managing the millions of couriers who carry food and packages on their behalf. Small local partners have been known to circumvent relatively strict but under-enforced Chinese labor laws.

In some cases, public outrage at the Weibo microblogging social media platform has helped change business behavior.

A 43-year-old Ele.me driver, surnamed Han, collapsed and died while delivering food last month. His family initially received compensation of 2,000 Rmb, as Ele.me claimed to have no direct employment relationship with Mr. Han, according to state media. After a public reaction, Ele.me apologized and increased its offer to 600,000 Rmb.

Meituan and Ele.me both built their Business plans by making more and more deliveries per day from their millions of couriers. The pressure to deliver quickly or face heavy fines was denounced last September which led Meituan and Ele.me to tweak their algorithms to give couriers more time to deliver orders.

The Taizhou local government did not respond to a request for comment.

Meituan declined to comment.

Ele.me said: “We are saddened by this tragic event. The situation is currently under investigation and we are unable to comment at this time. “

Meanwhile, Chinese tech groups have also come under pressure “996” hours of work system, with employees scheduled to work 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. six days a week or more.

Additional reporting by Nian Liu in Beijing

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