Guangzhou: Life in the fast lane

By Wong Chung Shing

Every night, De Xuan, a 23-year-old woman from Hunan province, locks her bicycle after the restaurant closes. As one of the few female delivery workers, she just goes back home instead of having a drink like other male workers.

For the past year, De has worked as a small part of the emerging group in Guangzhou. Unlike other delivery workers who are hired by dedicated takeaway platforms, she works for a separate restaurant named Yujian Noodles, which located near the west gate of Jinan University.

De said most of the takeaway orders are from school. “I love riding in school because there are few cars, and I don’t need to go upstairs to knock on the doors.”

Nowadays, Chinese people are spending more money on takeaway food because the payment method is more convenient than before, and the food delivery industry has developed quickly. A recent report from consulting company BigData-Research shows that transactions within China’s online food delivery industry yielded¥176.15 billion in 2016, increasing 361 percent from 2015.

As the result of rapid development of food delivery industry, millions of delivery workers are riding through the street every hour of every day. Their average basic salary is¥4,000 per month, which is much higher than working in a restaurant. Some of them can earn more than¥10,000 a month.

It takes time for the delivery workers to get accustomed to the job. When De first came to JNU, she could hardly recognize the roads and buildings. In the first week, she had arrived late for several deliveries. Therefore, she was determined to remember all the routes to keep herself from getting complaints. Unless there is heavy rain, she is no longer is late.

De gets paid about¥4,000 in total a month, and she is satisfied with that. “I used to work as a cleaner at the train station. I only earned ¥2,500 per month.”

But there are problems.

“What makes me upset is the food theft problem,” De grumbled. “I will put the food at a place asked by the consumers. When they are too busy to take it, they call me because the food is stolen.”

If takeaway food is stolen, the delivery worker has to pay for another delivery and probably gets a bad review. Whenever they get bad comments, it means they will lose the commission of that order and face a deduction of¥50.

Chen Chengzhen used to be a full-time delivery worker for Eleme, which is one of the biggest takeaway platforms online. Recently, he turned to part-time work due to some physical problems.

Chen admitted that though the current wage is lower than before, he can use the spare time to do a different job, “I used to work for 13 hours a day, and there are no holidays. Then I got sick. Now I only deliver food during lunch and dinner.”

Comparing the typical schedule of nine to five of the white-collar workers, the hours of the blue-collar group is more specific. Overtime work, shift work, and even voluntary work overtime is widespread. A full-time delivery worker needs to work more than 10 hours a day. Also, it is common that they pick up six or seven orders at once.

“Noon is the busiest time to deliver food; there is no time to eat. I can just eat some fast food,” Chen said as he drank a mouthful of soup.

De understands this. According to her, there are two delivery workers for Yujian Noodles, and they deliver the takeaway food in turn: one sets out as another one comes back. De said that she usually delivers over 30 orders a day, and she can rest a while only in the afternoon because she needs to help pack food while she is waiting.

De often rides as fast as she can to deliver on time. She said that many delivery workers are speeding on the street to finish more orders and earn more money. But she is worried about her safety and that of others. The roads in the school are narrow, and the roads outside the school are full of traffic. Riding through the traffic is dangerous. Collisions occur between delivery workers and cars every day. Even though there are few people have been seriously injured in accidents, the delivery workers have to pay medical expenses, vehicle maintenance costs, and compensation for food losses.

De said she worries about the future. She admitted that she might not work in this industry for too long. As a delivery worker hired by the restaurant, she does not have the commission that provided by online delivery platforms. The wages and workload are not proportional.

Many people regard delivering takeaway food as a good way to make money. Because of increasing difficulties, many delivery workers want to find another job. At the same time, there are many young people trying to become delivery workers. As Qian Zhongshu said in his book, “Fortress Besieged”: Those who are outside want to get in, and those who are inside want to get out.


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