Dy­ing for a take­out? Couri­ers pay for our ‘fast’ food ad­dic­tion

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Wang Han

As on­line food or­der­ing be­comes a pop­u­lar life­style choice for many city dwellers in China, an in­creas­ing num­ber of food de­liv­ery work­ers are pour­ing into first- and sec­ond-tier cities in or­der to meet this de­mand.

While these hard­work­ing peo­ple make life eas­ier for ur­ban­ites who have nei­ther the time, or in­cli­na­tion, to pre­pare their own meals, the lot of these work­ers in large cities is any­thing but easy. In fact, their per­sonal safety, dig­nity and ba­sic hu­man rights seem to be rou­tinely com­prised by the nature of their du­ties and their treat­ment by em­ploy­ers.

The most press­ing is­sue in the food de­liv­ery game is the num­ber of work­ers be­ing se­ri­ously in­jured, and oc­ca­sion­ally killed, in traf­fic ac­ci­dents. Sta­tis­tics un­veiled last week show that 76 such work­ers were in­jured or killed (the re­port failed to pro­vide a dis­tinc­tion) in Shang­hai alone in the first six months of 2017.

Like­wise, in Shen­zhen, there have been 311 cases of traf­fic ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing food de­liv­ery men over the same pe­riod. Shock­ingly, 52 of those in­ci­dents ended in fa­tal­i­ties. No­tably, the re­port con­cluded, the ma­jor­ity of ac­ci­dents seem to have been caused by dan­ger­ous driv­ing by the food de­liv­ery men who died.

So why is there such an is­sue with de­liv­ery work­ers ig­nor­ing ba­sic traf­fic safety rules and need­lessly putting their own lives, and oth­ers, at risk?

One rea­son is that many work­ers orig­i­nally hail from vil­lages, small towns and ru­ral ar­eas, where they will not be as fa­mil­iar with the chaotic and con­gested nature of big city roads and high­ways. A news re­port quoted a de­liv­ery worker telling a po­lice of­fi­cer who pulled him over for run­ning a red light: “But I al­ways drive like this in my home­town.”

How­ever, I also think that food or­der­ing plat­forms need to shoul­der far more re­spon­si­bil­ity for the huge spike in ac­ci­dents. Many of these busi­nesses pro­vide little to no train­ing in ba­sic road safety for their work­ers. One rea­son may be that at­tri­tion rates are very high, lead­ing many firms to feel there is little point in­vest­ing in staff who aren’t go­ing to stay around for very long.

Re­gard­less, it ap­pears many such plat­forms are putting ef­fi­ciency and prof­its be­fore staff safety. In or­der to im­press ex­ist­ing cus­tomers – and at­tract new ones – apps of­ten set strict, and of­ten un­re­al­is­tic, time lim­its for staff to achieve, usu­ally mak­ing a food de­liv­ery within 30 min­utes of an or­der be­ing taken.

Sadly, any­one who lives in China will be aware that ser­vice and wait­staff are fi­nan­cially pe­nal­ized for mis­takes in food or­ders, and this also ex­tends to late de­liv­er­ies. Little won­der that hard-pressed work­ers sur­viv­ing on sub­sis­tence wages are tempted to speed when it comes to get­ting or­ders in on time, some­times with tragic con­se­quences. So what can be done to pre­vent future ac­ci­dents? To be­gin with, food or­der­ing plat­forms need to be com­pelled by the au­thor­i­ties to im­ple­ment bet­ter train­ing sys­tems to im­prove work­ers’ driv­ing skills and road safety aware­ness. In this re­gard, Hangzhou is al­ready show­ing the way. City traf­fic bosses now re­quire food de­liv­ery staff to pass a ba­sic traf­fic safety test be­fore be­ing able to en­ter the in­dus­try. And if a driver is found to have con­tra­vened any traf­fic reg­u­la­tions, he or she has to re-at­tend the train­ing and take the test again. In Shen­zhen, mean­while, the traf­fic depart­ment has cre­ated an on­line sys­tem to mon­i­tor all de­liv­ery apps and work­ers in the city. Any­one found trans­gress­ing traf­fic laws will be barred from driv­ing for a week. A sec­ond of­fence will see them barred for two weeks, and a third mis­de­meanor will see them off the roads for a whole year. These apps also need to be more flex­i­ble around re­al­is­tic de­liv­ery times, and to make al­lowances for bad weather and other un­fore­seen holdups. And un­der no cir­cum­stances should poorly paid work­ers have their salaries docked for sit­u­a­tions be­yond their con­trol. The opin­ions ex­pressed in this ar­ti­cle are the au­thor’s own and do not nec­es­sar­ily re­flect the views of the Global Times.

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