10/05/2017, 14.44
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China's dropping wages spark strikes by food delivery drivers

The sector has a very low profit margin. Meituan drivers saw their pay and delivery time cut. Ele.me drivers have not been paid in two months. According to estimates, at least 200 strikes have occurred per month in China in 2016.

Hong Kong (AsiaNews/China Labour Bulletin) – China has been hit by more labour action. After its  manufacturing plants, steel mills and hotels, its major food delivery platforms have been affected by strikes, this according to the China Labour Bulletin (CLB), which monitors strikes in the mainland per month.

Drivers are the latest group of workers to go on strike in at least four incidents in the country, affecting the three major firms - Waimai, Ele.me, and Meituan – last month over the non-payment of wages and pressure to perform their already dangerous jobs even faster and for less money.

According to CLB, years of intense competition has made it difficult for many food delivery companies to make a profit, with some getting out of the business altogether. Baidu announced in August that it was selling its Waimai subsidiary to its rival Ele.me, which is backed by Alibaba, one of the main e-commerce companies.

CLB also reported that Meituan drivers in the southwestern city of Kunming held a demonstration on 5 September protesting harsh new work rules.

One driver named Sun reported that pay rates had dropped from 6.5 yuan per kilometre to 4 yuan per kilometre, and that the time allowed for each delivery had been shortened from 43 to 37 minutes. Under the new rules, their pay had dropped from around 200 yuan to 120 yuan (US$ 30 to 18) per day.

Meituan responded by blacklisting four drivers who demanded the company change its policies. A Meituan company representative denied however that the blacklisted drivers had a labour relationship with the company. None of the drivers in fact had labour contracts.

CLB noted another strike in Beijing by a group of Ele.me drivers on 4 September. The protest had been precipitated by the announcement by an Ele.me subcontractor that it could not pay the workers their last two months wages. In total, about 40 workers were owed more than 200,000 yuan (US$ 30,000). After a tense moment, the company promised to pay the back wages.

About 19.3 per cent of labour actions in China concern the service sector and e-commerce. The most affected sector is construction with 40 per cent of workers’ actions.

It is impossible to establish the total number of demonstrations and strikes, given the censorship of this kind of news. Estimates put the number of strikes at 200 per month in 2016.

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