05/26/2023, 11.59
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Chinese women in the gig economy: discriminated by customers and the algorithm

The China Labour Bulletin dennounces: Despite forming a good percentage of the workforce, delivery women in China are discrimated against or given negative reviews simply because they are women. The starting pay is often lower. Several local trade unions have intervened but no platform negotiations have taken place.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - With the employment crisis in recent years in China, an increasing number of women have become part of the 'gig economy', characterised by on-call jobs, often without protection, as opposed to stable, permanent positions.

However, Chinese drivers, delivery girls and riders, despite forming 20% of the workforce in this sector according to some estimates, suffer higher levels of discrimination than men: partly for cultural reasons and partly because of the platform algorithms that manage these activities.

This is underlined by a report published in recent days by the China Labour Bulletin. In China too, the gig economy has created millions of jobs: it was a growing trend as early as 2017, but pandemic-related living conditions and the layoffs that followed prompted hundreds of people to leave the manufacturing industry and the service sector to work for the home-delivery platforms, which in 2021 had a total of 84 million employees in China.

The percentages of women employed in the gig economy grew considerably between 2020 and 2022: in Beijing alone, the female share of deliveries was 9 per cent in 2020 and rose to 16 per cent the following year. The Chinese company T3 stated that 50,000 women were working as drivers in March this year, an increase of 32,000 compared to the same period in 2022.

However, the fact that women are employed in activities that are considered 'non-traditional' exposes them to stigmatisation and discriminatory comments: platform users often leave reviews asking, for example, "Why couldn't a girl find an easier job?", meaning more suitable for women. 

Female drivers reported in a study that they often received low ratings, negative reviews and in some cases the cancellation of the ride due to the stereotype that women could not drive. The ratings are not only offensive, but also have repercussions on pay. 

Moreover, as they also have to take care of the family, women reported that they cannot work the same number of hours as men. At the end of the day, fewer deliveries equals less pay, but it is also often the starting pay that is unequal: according to research by Sanlian Lifeweek, about 44% of female riders are paid less than 5 yuan per order, while only 25% of men receive such low pay.

Only 20% of women are paid 10 yuan per ride, compared to 30% of men. This wage inequality is realised with over 60% of women earning less than 5 thousand yuan per month (660 euro), while 70% of men earn more.

All this in spite of the fact that women face many more inconveniences while working. Trivially, it is much more difficult to find a toilet, so several female drivers have reported that they drink less in order to avoid having to take long breaks.

Drivers for their safety are also often forced to avoid isolated and remote areas, especially in the evenings, thus foregoing the higher earnings expected by platforms for these deliveries.

Despite the various regulations put in place, there has been no significant improvement. Several local trade unions have set up a number of activities to support female workers (offering products, rest stations, health and counselling services) but negotiations with the platforms to revise the algorithm system and include more protections for the female share have not yet begun.

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