AFCTU unconcerned as resistance of take-away deliverers continued

Online take-away business has boomed in all major cities in China in recent years, forming a group of million “take-away bros” among the urban dwellers. Online take-away business has brought significant impact to urban life and the traditional catering industry. Urban citizens manage their meals with mobile phone apps, and restaurants are extending their production chain to serve orders placed online.

 

While market competition among major take-away platforms attracted most attention, there was little discussion about collected actions by deliverers who played a major role in the industry. It was generally believed that as most take-away deliverers work separately, it was difficult for them to take collective actions. However, information from the “Map of China Workers in Action” published by the China Labour Bulletin pointed out that from August 2017 to July 2018, there were 47 incidents of collective actions by take-away deliverers in different cities in China. From May to July 2018, their frequent actions had formed a “national storm by take-away bros”.

 

National outbreak: Collective actions across provinces

 

Last year witnessed the peak of collective actions by take-away deliverers, which was in contrary to the general belief that casual workers of the service industries would not be organized. The collective actions happened from May to July were not limited to particular province but spread over Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Chongqing, Jiangsu, Yunnan, Beijing, etc. It was an evident that the employment mode created similar issues across provinces.

Most of the deliverers’ actions asked for increase of salary and some of them requested change in management system. However, the extreme disparity of power relations meant that most of the actions were not able to gain any result. The online platforms responded by blocking the account of the workers.

 

On 16 May 2018, over a hundred deliverers of Meituan in Chongqing went on strike in protest of Meituan’s change of policy: the platform would assign order to the deliverers, which was considered taking away their “autonomy as casual workers”. Under the new system, if a deliverer rejects orders for three times, he/she would be stopped from taking order for one day.[1] The workers on strike were blocked by the

 

Four of the collective actions happened at the “stations”. Sub-contracted deliverers are the major labour source of take-away platforms and these deliverers work for different “stations”. The take-away platforms usually have a few stations in one city and each station has a manager and employs tens of deliverers through sub-contracted companies to cover certain area, the smallest “position” of the platform. The sub-contracted company is responsible for the deliverers’ management, pay-roll and cooperation with take-away platform. In Meituan, each station usually have about 80 deliverers while the smaller ones have about 40 and the bigger ones have more than 100[2]. The system of sub-contracted deliverers is similar to other systems of sub-contract workers. Some of the collective actions were based on “stations” and some incidents were related to “closure of stations”.

 

When the Daidu Delivery was bought by the ele.me on 24 August 2017, its agent Yifeixun closed several stations without paying the deliverers’ salary, which resulted in protest by the workers. On 20 September 2017, a stations managed by Yifeixun in Shanghai closed with overdue wages of 7 to 8 months. Tens of workers went on protest.[3]

 

On 27 October on the same year, a Yifeixun-managed Baidu Take-away station in Wangjing of Haidian District of Beijing was closed without paying more than RMB300,000 salary. Over 20 deliverers protested in front of the Baidu Take-away headquarters.[4]

 

On 21-22 May 2018, 30 deliverers of a station in Changchun, Jilin went on protest to demand salary from the missing manager. 80% of these 30 deliverers had one-month missing wage, and a few of them were not paid for two to three months. The deliverers were worried that the missing of the manager is a signal of “closure without payment”. On 22 May, they got back their salary.[5] [6]

 

Collective actions to protest against low delivery fare have eventually resulted in cross-company strike in June 2018.

 

On 5 June 2018, deliverers of ele.me and Meituan in Hefei, Anhui went on strike in protest of decrease of delivery fare, safety of “internet-contracted workers” and elimination of welfare. Delivery fare was reduced from RMB12 to RMB per 5 km, and the two companies enforced compulsory order allocation. A few hundred deliverers went on strike which ended in police intervention. [7]

 

Trigger of anger: Ambiguous labour relations

 

Workers’ demands were specific but their anger was general. Under the ambiguous labour relations, the three major online take-away platforms arbitrarily changed employment terms in their cut-throat competition. As a result, take-away deliverers’ had to face higher level of danger and stress without corresponding return, which eventually led to frequent collective actions. Though the collective actions did not achieve satisfactory result, deliverers’ resistance continued, which reflected that the deliverers were determined to take back their rights through collective actions despite the absence of “employment relations”.

The deliverers dispatch meals for Meituan 12 hours a day, but they might not have formal employment relations with the company and are called the “internet-contracted workers” in Mainland China. There are three types of workers: employee directed employed by the take-away platform, employees of sub-contracted companies and individual workers called the “public contractor”.

The take-away platforms apply a penalty system on “over-time” delivery where if the take-away order could not be delivered within schedule, the payment for the delivery would be deducted according to time of delay. In case of traffic congestion or other factors that caused delay in delivery, the deliverer might have to do it for “free”.  The deliverer might be fined if the customer gave a “negative comment”, and lose a whole-day salary in the worst case. Without an employment contract, the platform could raise or reduce delivery fare arbitrarily, such as reducing the fare when sufficient manpower was hired, and the delivers had to suffer from instable salary, which became a trigger of labour actions. When the deliverers were “disobedient”, the platform or sub-contracted company only had to close the account of the deliverers to end their relations

Response of the ACFTU

 

The Report on Pilot Project of ACFTU Reform has several sections on “Internet +”, which included online member recruitment, enhancing online organizing capacity, using WeChat and other on-line platforms to serve their members, etc.[8] However, “development” of these tools could not address the real issues faced by take-away deliverers. Most of the labour actions of the deliverers were self-initiated and they rather not ask the ACFTU for help. Up to now, there is no record of involvement from ACFTU or its subsidiaries. The ACFTU did not take any action with regard to the core issue between the deliverers and the employer – the employment relation. The ACFTU’s reform remains an exaggeration of facts.

 

[1] More than 100 deliverers on strike were banned permanently. https://t.cj.sina.com.cn/articles/view/6533979393/185749d0100100er1n

[2] 30W deliverers behind the success of Meituan Take-away. https://kknews.cc/society/8evgvqn.html

[3] Three industry heads of food delivery summoned urgently, promise to improveaccording to demands. http://legal.qianlong.com/2018/0412/2513669.shtml  [15]

[4] Same as note [3]

[6] Same as note [3]

[7] Same as note [3]

[8] Report on Pilot Project of ACFTU Reform, 28 March 2017,  http://www.acftu.org/template/10041/file.jsp?aid=93826