Report on food delivery rider unrest (2017-2018)

Content (Full Report PDF

  1. Research background - Preface

  2. Research methodology and limitation

  3. Background of the industry

  4. Employment modes of food delivery riders

    1. An ambiguous employment relationship

    2. Cut throat competition between platforms

    3. Occupational safety of food delivery riders

  5. Analysis of collective labour struggles: characteristics and outlook

    1. Branch protests

    2. Enduring and cross-regional characteristics

    3. Foundation of rider organisation

    4. Background of the unrests: cross-regional unrests under the Chinese economic transition

  6. Reaction from All-China Federation of Trade Union

  7. Conclusion: Under Chinese economic transition, workers face a more hazardous gig economy

    1. Possibility of further unrest: to clarify employment relation


Report on food delivery rider unrest (2017-2018) | Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions

1. Research background - Preface

In recent years, online delivery industry emerged in major cities in China. Millions of “food delivery guys” (外賣小哥) became part of the communities. This has brought huge changes to the lifestyles of urbanites and traditional food services: people order their food via smartphone apps from day to night; restaurants take orders also on the Internet, etc.  These factors extended the production chain considerably.

In many recent studies, much attention has been directed to examine the competitions between market competitors, while the delivery workers, who are the pillars of this industry, were underemphasised. It is generally believed that delivery workers could hardly protest with collective effort, as they are individuals in the gig economy. However, data shows a phenomenon of the opposite: A total of 47 protests had been launched by delivery workers between August 2017 and July 2018; collective actions took place more frequently especially at later stage, i.e. between May and July 2018, that was referred to as “national food delivery worker unrest”. This report will introduce the background of the industry, its emergence, working conditions of delivery workers, and analyse their protests in the past year. 

2. Research methodology and limitation

  • Research methodology

This report is mainly based on archival research from online resources. Information of individual cases are taken from “Map of collective protests of Chinese workers” published by China Labour Bulletin.

Data used and analysed in this report are based upon information available in Chinese information companies,, official surveys, reports from civil societies, and press reports from Hong Kong and China, and concluded the current working condition of online delivery riders.

  • Limitation of the report

Since this report is based on secondary sources, it lacks first-hand information from interviews. With the limited information, this report can only analyse from the cause and appeals of the protests, and is unable to record the courses and results of all 47 protests comprehensively. These may be complemented later with further information.

3. Background of the industry

In recent years, “Internet Plus Economy” has become a key to China’s economic development. “Shared economy” thus emerged.  Industries that develop in “shared economy” infused into the everyday lives of the citizens. Bike sharing, car hailing, Internet shopping with delivery, or food delivery, can all be done with a click.

Such change in the everyday life is closely related to China’s recent economic transition. 2015 saw the first result of such transition in China as service sector weighing more than 50% of GDP. In the same year, the popularisation rate of Internet reached 50.3%, with users reached over 700 million. Meanwhile, Internet economy surmounted more than 7% of GDP. With these as the foundation, the concept of “Internet Plus” emerged. In 2015, the State Council of China introduced the “Internet Plus Action Plan”, to promote “Mobile Internet, cloud computing, big data, Internet of Things, with modern manufacturing, the healthy development of E-commerce, Industry networks, and Internet banking, and to get Internet based companies to increase their presence in the international market”. To sum up, Internet Plus combines traditional industries with the Internet for further development. 

This report focuses on the treatment of the food delivery riders under such Internet economy development and will concisely introduce the background of the industry. The Internet food delivery market in China has grown rapidly in 2014, its market size has grown from RMB21.6 billion in 2011, to that of RMB205.2 billion in 2017. The users of online delivery apps grew from 60 million in 2011 to 350 million in 2017.

This report will focus on the four giants in this intensely competed industry. These are Ele.me, Meituan Food Delivery (on-demand delivery services), Baidu Food Delivery and DiDi Food Delivery. Meituan, the leader of the industry, started its services in November 2013. It handles up to 6 million orders per day in 2016. In 2017, its daily orders increased to 18 million, active riders reached 531 thousands and active users 289 millions. 

Ele.me started in 2015 and alleged to have, together with its delivery agent FengNiao, 3 million riders. Its daily order in March 2017 reached 9 million. Baidu Food Delivery was the third biggest corporation in the industry and was purchased by Ele.me in August 2017. 

In April 2018, Alibaba purchased Ele.me to further expand its e-commerce empire to the food delivery services. Hence, Ele.me and Meituan formed the “Alibaba – Ele.me” alliance that compete with the “Tencent - Meituan” alliance. While DiDi Food Delivery was founded in March 2018 as an extension from DiDi Chuxing Technology Co., which originally provide car hailing service, and quickly became a leader in the industry.

Both Meituan and Ele.me planned to develop autonomous delivery services, as it might become the battlefield of “delivery war”. This will definitely have huge impact on the labour rights of the delivery riders. Meituan applied to list in stock exchange in Hong Kong and already undertaken an IPO in September 2018. 

After the development in the past five years, the transaction amount in China’s delivery market reached RMB 209.6 billion in 2017. However, whether the industry could be sustainable was questionable. In order to support the enormous number of users on a delivery platform, competing corporates adopted a “burning money” strategy by subsidising users to lower service price. In 2017 alone, Meituan spent 4.2 billion yuan to subsidize users. In the same year, Meituan recorded a 2.9 billion yuan deficit

Online food delivery service is not an indepentent profit making business for the giants. Instead, they have an important role to play for other Internet businesses. For instance, Meituan food delivery service boosted the businesses of other online services, such as Meituan App, Dianping, Tencent social media apps WeChat or QQ, etc, as food delivery orders can be directed from these channels. Meanwhile, food delivery service also provides valuable consumption information for the conglomerates. 

 “Burning money” strategy is always a means to compete for market shares and cultivate consumer behaviour. While the latter has been achieved, the price competition is likely to continue despite subsidising large amount of money is not sustainable. Any of these platforms cannot raise the price, otherwise users will order food in another platform. Shortly after Meituan’s announcement of listing on Hong Kong’s stock exchange, Ele.me also announced its increase of subsidy to 3 billion yuan. 

Although the transaction amount on platforms continues to grow, the profitability of the industry is low due to the large amount of subsidies. This is the reason why delivery riders have low pay. As a result of the rapid development of the industry, millions of workers became riders who rush through the cities. This report will focus on the working conditions of the riders and their unrests. 

4. Employment modes of food delivery riders

  • An ambiguous employment relationship

Instead of “employed” by the platforms, e-commerce encourages individuals to “cooperate” through online platforms, causing ambiguity in employment relations among many Internet Plus related jobs. For instance, although riders wear Meituan’s uniform to deliver food for 12 hours a day, many of them are not directly hired by the company. This is called “Internet contractors” in Mainland China. In fact, the employment modes of the food delivery riders are generally differentiated in three categories: direct employees of food delivery platforms, agency-hired riders and the individual contractors through crowdsourcing. 

  1. Official riders – staff officially employed by food delivery platforms with recognized employment relationship. Platforms pay for their standard social insurances & housing provident fund. However, very few drivers belong to this category. 

  2. Agency drivers – some riders who work at platform branches are recruited by agencies. However, many agencies signed intermediary agreements or commercial cooperation contracts with the riders. Only very few agencies signed formal employment contracts with them and pay for their standard social insurances and housing provident fund.

  3. Individual riders through crowdsourcing – these are typical individual workers described as “spontaneous integration of social resources” in the “shared economy” theory. They register on platforms to become riders. But despite being “individual” riders, they are managed by agencies. Ele.me for example outsourced its crowdsourcing platform to agency “Dianwoda”. 

For both agency riders and individual riders, the employment relations are ambiguous. Agencies and platforms do not bear the responsibilities as employers. When riders try to find their legal employers to solve disputes, things get more problematic.

A Meituan rider in Guanzhou  remained unconscious after a traffic accident in October 2017. His family tried to make a claim, not only did Meituan but also the agency “Shanghai Yijida Network Technology Co., Ltd.” deny its employment relation with the rider. Instead of a work contract, Yijida only signed an ambiguous “employers’ liability insurance” with the worker.

Without recognized employment relationship, workers’ rights are not guaranteed. The only thing they can count on is their daily salary. But salary rates are decided by the platforms – around 7 yuan per order. What’s more, due to lack of legal protection by Labour Law to agency riders and individual riders, platforms developed all sorts of fine for delay or bad reviews policies to penalise riders.

Despite the absence of employment relation, the management of the riders by the platforms are meticulous.  To ensure that deliveries arrive punctually, riders may have their salary proportionally deducted for any delayed orders. If riders fail to deliver food on time because of traffic congestions for example, they might not get any money for that order. In other words, their services are for free. Consequently, any bad reviews by users might also get the riders fined. In worse cases, they might be working for free for the whole day. 

 “Fengniao Delivery” is an agency of Ele.me. Its employees summarised their fine policies: RMB5 deduction for 10 minutes delay, RMB10 for 20 minutes, so on and so forth. Spilling soup will be fined with RMB100; video captured of riding without helmet, RMB500, pressing “early arrival” before food arrives, RMB1,000; argument with customers, RMB50.” Source: Initium Media

The harsh fine policies made the working environment more dangerous for riders. To avoid fine or bad reviews, riders rush speedily, drive in opposite direction, and disregard traffic lights, etc. 

A rider working for Baidu said, a single remark of “bad manner” from the customer might lead to a penalty of RMB2,000.

In fact, whether the riders and the platform have an “employment relation” or a “service relation” is controversial. In fact the Chinese Government agrees that it is a serious issue. If the relation between riders and platforms indeed belongs to an “employment relation”, the above-mentioned “management by fine” policies will be against the law.  

Without a clear employment relation, platforms have absolute power over the remuneration of the workers. In the absence of employment contracts, platforms can freely adjust the delivery remuneration. Once hired enough manpower, the wage per order will drop, making income of riders unstable. This is usually the trigger of rider unrest. Also, whenever a rider is “disobedient”, platforms or agencies simply terminate the riders’ account on the apps to sack them. 

In Binjiang district, Hangzhou Province, more than a hundred riders for Ele.me were permanently blacklisted and were unable to withdraw money from their accounts in November 2016. The platform did not give any explanation. Zhang, a delivery rider, appealed according to the regulation to no avail. It was reported that these riders are “high capacity individual riders” who work for over 12 hour per day and complete up to 300 orders per week. 

In August 2018, a rider for Ele.me was “blacklisted for over 200 years and will not be allowed to take orders again until 2286” for going on strike for two days against low-wages. 

  • Cut throat competition between platforms

Meituan, Ele.me and Didi food delivery are the 3 giant delivery platforms of Internet Plus. The cut throat competition among them have direct impact on their riders. The competing platforms usually pull out three tricks to get on top of each other: 1. Slashes price, or even subsidising customers; 2. Slashes delivery time; 3. Slashes riders remunerations to maximise the profit. 

In April 2018, DiDi Food Delivery extended its business to Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, and triggered a price war with the other two platforms. To a certain extent, it somehow reveals various destructive characteristics of the vicious competition.

In April 2018, DiDi delivery, Ele.me and Meituan “started a war” in Wuxi City. The platforms started to subsidise user and give out red packets in order to expand their market shares. DiDi, for instance, gave out vouchers of RMB20 for first orders, while users could get extra red packets of RMB5 to 8 for subsequent orders.  In the other hand, Meituan launched a “free delivery” promotion and handed out red packets that worth RMB100 million in total, while Ele.me also launched its own promotion. In addition, all three platforms requested restaurants to stick to their delivery services only, threatening to remove the restaurants from their platforms otherwise. All of a sudden, food delivery service in Wuxi was offered almost for free whereas restaurants received orders in threefold. This phenomenon drew the attention from the government, which later deemed the acts as violating marketing competition principles. Wuxi Administration for Industry & Commerce summoned the three platforms for a meeting and consequently the platforms stopped the price war. 

This incident illustrates the intensity of competition among platforms, which might even draw government’s attention. Such cut throat competition also has impact on delivery riders, such as shortening the delivery time. A rider from Ele.me used to have 60 minutes to complete his delivery service in 2016, whereas in 2017 the time limit was reduced to 45 minutes and in 2017, it was merely 30 minutes. At the expense of the rider’s working condition, the race against the clock raised the expectation of customers on the delivery time. It could be observed in the paragraphs below, that such delivery requirement was a cause to the rider unrest. 

  • Occupational safety of food delivery riders

The shortening of delivery time by platforms, together with their penalty policies, caused threat to the riders’ occupational or even traffic safety. To avoid fines, it is common that riders rush through the streets, ride against traffic, or disregard traffic lights. Under the pressure from extreme time constraint and long working hours, accidents are likely to happen.

According to data, traffic accidents related to food delivery riders increased sharply along with the growth of the industry. For the first half of 2017 alone, the Nangjing Government recorded 3,242 traffic accidents that were related to food delivery riders, 3 of which were fatal. It was reported that 3 in every 20 riders have run into traffic accidents before. 

Platforms even continue delivery services under poor weather conditions. Many records show that riders have to deliver food during typhoon alert. 

On 24 August 2017, despite worked has been called off by the Shenzhen Government when Typhoon “Hato” struck Guangdong Province, a rider delivering food was caught on camera. 

Thus, it can be construed that the employment policies of food delivery platforms even affects road safety in cities. However, governmental responses to the problem were somewhat haphazard. Instead of revising the existing policies and working conditions, governments handed out harsher traffic penalties on the riders. In March 2018, the Shenzhen Government introduced new penalty for food delivery riders, ruling first time offender against traffic regulation a one-week work suspension. Serious offenders would be suspended from work for 1 month. Committing 3 consecutive traffic violation will lead to expulsion from the job. Should any riders cause severe or fatal accidents, all riders from the branch will be punished collectively. For March alone, 1,280 riders were suspended from work for 1 week. However, to intervene employment relation with hefty traffic penalties, and penalize  riders’ with their employment opportunities, is obviously not in conformity of legal principles. 

Instead of regulating the food delivery platforms, the Shenzhen Government introduced measures to penalize riders. However, in order to avoid fines and bad reviews caused by delays, sometimes as much as one day of salary, riders risk violating traffic regulations to race against the insufficient delivery time limit. The new regulations by the government, only puts more pressure on the riders. 

On the other, the peak delivery hours during lunch and dinner time also makes it impossible for riders to have regular meals, consequently causing health problems. 

5. Analysis of collective labour struggles: characteristics and outlook

This report will mainly analyse labour struggles initiated delivery platform riders from August 2017 to July 2018. During which, 47 protests took place in different locations in China, according to “Map of collective strikes of Chinese workers” by China Labour Bulletin.

Main causes of the 47 disputes:

  1. 28 disputes due to low wages. Riders mainly fought for pay raise, better subsidies, or stop pay cut by platforms. 

  2. 14 disputes due to wages in arrears. These protests have higher chance to succeed.

  3. Other protests were caused by insufficient delivery time, work injury compensation insurance, heavy fine policies, etc. And despite their precarity, the riders display a great deal of solidarity in these actions. This can be deemed as the golden period of rider unrest. Below is the analysis of these collective labour disputes.

Most of the disputes demanded pay raise, while some are related to employment policies. However, due to the extreme inequality in powers, many disputes were not successful. Platforms could “solve” the problems by simply blacklisting the couriers.

16 May 2018, more than a hundred riders from Meituan called for a strike to protest against the new order assignment system.  Instead of “taking orders” by the riders, Meituan proposed to assign orders to riders against their will, cutting away their last autonomy as “individual worker”. Under the new arrangement, riders refusing to take assigned orders 3 times will be banned from taking orders for one day. The riders on strike were also banned from taking orders.

  • Branch-based disputes

Among the riders disputes, 4 can be catergorized as “branch-based” disputes. As the pillar of the food delivery platform, most riders are congregated in “branches” and each platform have several branches in each city. Usually managed by outsourced employment agencies, each branch is made up of a branch manager and dozens of riders. The outsourcing company is also responsible for employee management, payroll, and negotiating business deals within the district. These branches are responsible for delivery services within various kilometres, forming their responsible areas. For instance, most branches of Meituan have around 80 riders, with smaller ones around 40 riders and larger ones over 100. The employment practice of such agency riders are very similar to common outsourced workers.  As many collective disputes were “branch-based”, sometimes involved the shutting down of branched, that is the reason why most of such disputes involved no more than 100 workers.

When Ele.me purchased Baidu delivery on 24 August 2017, several branches were closed and many riders’ salary were left unpaid by their employment agency, Yifeixun . On 20 September 2017, when one of the Yifeixun subcontracted branches in Shanghai shut down without remunerating its workers for two months, it caused dozens of workers protested. 

On 27 October the same year, one branch of Baidu delivery, managed by Yifeixun, in Haidian District, Beijing, was shut down. The agency fled with over RMB300,000 of debt. More than 20 riders protested outside of Baidu’s headquater. 

On 21-22 May 2018, 30 riders from a Meituan branch in Changchun, Jilin Province, protested to recover their unpaid wages from the branch manager who went missing. 24 of the 30 riders had not been paid for one month, a few of them for two to three months. According to the riders, the branch manager disappeared and was suspected to have embezzled the money. On 22 May, Meituan intervened and remunerated the riders. 

After several protests against low wages, workers finally developed an inter-platform protest in June 2018.

On 5 June 2018, riders from Ele.me and Meituan launched a strike together against pay cut, safety issues, as well as welfare reduction. Wage per 5 kilometres dropped from RMB12 to RMB7 and both platforms adopted the “assigning orders” arrangement. Hundreds of riders joined the strike for 3 days until the police intervened. 

  • Enduring and cross-regional characteristics

With the “war of three delivery kingdoms” in Wuxi City, riders from DiDi launched strikes after strikes, illustrating the enduring nature of the unrest. 

Riders from DiDi delivery in Wuxi went on strike on 26 April and 9 May 2018 due to recurring wages cuts and reduction of subsidies by 30%. The strike in May involved workers from several branches. 

Likewise, from April to May 2018, 6 disputes took place in cities like Wuxi, Liyang, Xuzhou, Suzhou and Taicang, Jiangsu Province. As a matter of fact, 11 disputes among the 47 discussed in this report took place in Jiangsu, implicating that workers are accumulating experiences from previous struggles.

Cross-regional characteristics can be observed from the disputes took place between May and July. In fact, collective disputes involved food delivery riders did not happen within a small area, instead they were spread to different provinces such as Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Chongqing, Jiangsu, Yunnan, and Beijing, etc. It shows that similar employment models aroused defiance from workers facing the same problems. 

Appeals of worker might vary slightly, but their rage stems from some of the fundamental issues within the industry: ambiguous employment relation, frequently changing policies, cut throat competition, etc. These, on the one hand, create safety risks or stressful working environment to the workers, whereas they are not earning a fair share of the return on the other hand. Collective disputes broke out consequently. Although not all collective disputes went in favour of the workers, the riders still pursue their demands through collective actions since they understand the necessity to demand their rights, especially in the absence of formal employment relationship. 

  • Foundation of rider organisation

Despite common perception that riders are unlikely to be organised collectively, this report, on the contrary, found the possibility of their solidarity. Although there is no official remark from the workers, we could see possible foundation for their solidarity, i.e. gathering of riders in areas where more orders are made, utilising the Internet for mobilisation, and the branches of the riders. 

First of all, based on the nature of delivery platforms, riders tend to hang around in districts where they can get more orders, i.e. their gathering spots. Moreover, riders take orders from their mobile phones, so they are familiar with connecting with others via social media apps such as QQ or WeChat. Like any other collective actions, news and information are proliferated via mobile phones. Especially when platforms hand out notifications at the same time, all workers feel the same kind of rage. 

As discussed above, riders are based in various branches under the management of branch managers. When the workers’ salaries are embezzled by a branch manager, it is likely to initiate a “branch-based” disputes. 

Moreover, these protests are mostly self-organised, without the assistance of labour organisations. On the one hand, labour organisations or their members were forced to keep a low profile due to the crackdown of labour NGOs since December 2015, and were less likely to assist in protests. On the other hand, collective disputes took place in all parts of the country, making labour organisations more difficult to intervene. Without the capacity to further mobilize each other, the demands of the food delivery riders are kept at the responsive level. 

  • Background of the unrests: cross-regional unrests under the Chinese economic transition

As mentioned above, protests of delivery riders can spread across different regions. This echoes the trend in Chinese worker unrests for the past years. Like food delivery riders, other workers in the service sector also organise protests in many different regions simultaneously.  A prelude to the series of strikes was in Wal-mart May 2016, when employees went on strike against the “Comprehensive Working Hours System” (i.e. flexible working hour), the workers were organised via mobile phones and successfully mobilised employees in 4 Wal-Marts across China. 

Food delivery riders are not the only ones to collectively demand for better working conditions.  Elsewhere in China, employees for Lalamove, another example of “Internet Plus”, also called for a series of strikes. Before Labour Day, waves of strikes by tower crane operators broke out in 27 cities and were supported by other workers. Along with the experiences of the food delivery riders, cross-regional organized collective labour disputes can be seen as a new trend in China.

6. Reaction from All-China Federation of Trade Union

The All-China Federation of Trade Union (ACFTU) is the only legal union under Communist China’s governance. Any unions not affiliated to the ACFTU are deemed as illegal organisations, according to the “Trade Union Law” of China. With continuous workers unrests caused by “new” employment relations under “Internet Plus”, it is obvious that the ACFTU is unable to response to such escalating crisis. 

In the concluding report on “Trade Unions’ Reform Pilot Program” published by the ACFTU, the ACFTU claims that much has been done to address the growth of  “Internet Plus” economy, such as establishing online members recruitment system, strengthening the online organisation capacity of trade unions, opening public accounts on WeChat or Weibo, and reaching our to workers via Internet, etc. In fact, these reforms are simply communication digitalization strategies. In the era of telecommunication, these strategies are simply applicable to all walks of lives. The core of the matter lies upon the content information.  In fact, from the WeChat account of Chengdu General Workers Union, most of the information it publishes are welfare or popular information. 

Only one article is worker rights related, which informed workers of the subsidies and protections that they are entitled to when defending their rights. However, only members of Chengdu labour unions or registered employers in the city can apply such subsidy. For the “Internet Plus” workers that do not have a formal employment relation with their employers, the subsidy is merely a pie in the sky. At the end of the article, it even warns workers to refrain from “any radical actions such as crying, disturbing, blocking doorways, and creating inharmoniousness and public nuisance that turn rights defenders into offenders.” Thus, any reform under the name of “Internet Plus” is merely a synonym of any other online organization and communication strategies, to deceive orders from superior unions.

Moreover, these reforms cannot address the real problems that the riders encounter. As mentioned above, there has been no record of intervention from the ACFTU in cases of food delivery rider collective unrests, despite the deteriorating situation. Most disputes were wildcat strike self-organised by the riders themselves. Moreover, the ACFTU refrained from defending workers’ rights and kept its silence when the Shenzhen Government introduced unreasonable penalties to food delivery riders (see “Occupational safety of delivery riders” section of this report). 

Shanghai Trade Union for Online Food Delivery Riders was set up in January 2018 in Putuo District with about 400 members. This is the only union for delivery riders in China. Despite the success of its function is remain to be seen, from what it reported, the core duties of the union remain on handing out welfares and benefits, such as “high temperature caring, RMB1 watermelon, online talk on traffic safety, opening of outdoor support stations for workers”, etc. In line with official propaganda, it even proposes riders to “obey traffic regulations and assure food safety” 

In fact, employment relation between delivery workers and platforms remains as the core issue of riders unrests.  However, the ACFTU has yet to make any remarks nor affirm it stance on the issue. Thus, it is conceivable that workers never tried to seek help from ACFTU in cases of disputes. In fact, “unions are useless” has become a common understanding of the workers. All the victories from recent disputes have not involved unions. On the contrary, protests involving unions generally ended up being “harmonized”. Like critics pointed out, unions under ACFTU do not represent workers. They have no roles in labour disputes but unsuccessful “mediator” between enterprises and labour. 

Conclusion: Under Chinese economic transition, workers face a more hazardous gig economy

According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the service sector has become the largest industry in China as early as 2013. It accounted for 51.6% of GDP by 2016, 11.8% higher than manufacturing industry. Under such background, the “fury” of workers is also transferring from factories to the newly developed Internet Plus service model industries. During this process of economic transition, rural migrant workers, face a more casualized and insecure employment conditions, and forming the immense army of precariats.

According to the “2018 report on delivery riders community” by Meituan Dianping, 75% of their riders come from rural areas, 68% left home for work, 31% were decommissioning workers, i.e. manufacturer. The data also shows that 42% of the riders were recommended to the job by their clansmen. Apparently, rural migrant workers flocked into the industry from factories, and the “nepotism” between clansmen still applies to this newly developed casual service industries. 

In the past, when rural migrant workers moved into towns, they first encountered inequality caused by the household registration system, then insurance arrears by employers, and finally the shutdown of factories due to the decline of manufacturing industry. Today, they face a more hazardous situation – employers have no legal liabilities for their severance payment and social insurances, while employees risk their lives rushing on the dangerous roads just to complete tasks within limited time.  

Although the “Internet Plus” delivery industry continues to grow in the name of “shared economy”, its practice has nothing to do with “shared economy”.  Quite the contrary, it has created countless precariats. Employment agencies hired by the food delivery platforms are no different from traditional outsourcing agencies. When platforms are not even providing production tools, such as motorcycles, they are in fact evading the employment relation as the so-called “new economic model”. 

The 3 platforms have all showed interest in developing automation technology. Meituan even announced their exploration of robot delivery technology, and have applied for 60 proprietary rights to self-driving vehicles and planes, etc. After being replaced by robots in factories, workers might be experiencing another round of replacement.

This report concluded 47 protests from the past years, analysing their characteristics and outlook. Should the relation between employers and workers remain ambiguous under the development of “Internet Plus”, labour relations is expected to deteriorate. This “new employment relation” is the key issue to lowering cost and making the industry boom at the expense of workers rights. The ambiguous employment relation, coupling with unsustainable subsidising operation model, the RMB200 billion of food delivery sales means nothing but bubbles. 

Delivery riders have more sympathy from the people than factory workers, for they have closer contacts, like meeting in the street, rating services, etc. On the Internet, their stories are so intensely discussed that major press competes in reporting their stories. These are the social foundations of their protests.

  • Possibility of further unrest: to clarify employment relation

The food delivery rider unrest illustrates that the potential solidarity of workers. But with the power disparity and the formal employment relation, the demands of workers have no legal basis in the Labour Law, and hence are likely to encounter bottleneck. Moreover, the Chinese Government seems to be unhurried in eradicating core issue of precarious employment. For instance, for the "Internet economy", there are instructions from the State Council; for the development of the food delivery industry, the official has published the "Food Delivery Service Specifications", which issued requirements for the food delivery personnel; and regulates the vicious competition between enterprises; the Shenzhen Government has also introduced a policy of disciplining the food delivery riders. However, apart from all these measures, the government has yet take up a position on the ambiguous employment relation. When jobs are not guaranteed, workers have no choice but to take collective actions. 

The ambiguous employment relation is a main cause to the exploitation of delivery riders. However, the disputes recorded in this report show that although riders are furious at the platforms, their demands remained on issues such as  wages and delivery time, but not to the employment relation between the riders and the platform. In June 2017, a rider named Li from express delivery platform “Beijing Tongchenbiying Technology Ltd.”(also known as “Shansong”) lodged a case to the Haidian People’s Court and was ruled to have established employment relation with the platform. The ruling has opened up a possibility for delivery riders.

Li, a courier rider for Beijing Tongcheng, was involved in a car accident at work. His company claimed that their relationship to be “cooperation” instead of “employment”, that platform simply provides information for the rider to work for himself. But the court considered delivery riders who rely on the platforms to receive order information, wear badges at work and are regulated by company’s rules are not self-employed. The court thus ruled riders to have employment relation with the platform, and was entitled to industrial injury insurance. This court decision is unprecedented when dealing with employment relations and workers’ rights under “Internet Plus”. This is a case that food delivery riders should take as reference.

For the reference of report, see: Full Report PDF
 

Researcher: Leo Tang Kin Wa

Editor: Ming Lam

Cover Design: Vivian Li

Publication: Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions July 2019