Ten-minute food delivery sparks backlash over workers’ safety
India’s best known food delivery company sparks online negative reaction over riders’ safety in a country that tops the world in road-related fatalities.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Zomato's plans to deliver food in 10 minutes has stirred up a hornet’s nest in India.
Deepinder Goyal, CEO of India's best-known food delivery company, explained that the Zomato Instant application relies on a dense network of food “finishing” stations to warehouse the trendiest hot food from restaurants, while using a sophisticated algorithm to predict demand.
Goyal’s claim was met with criticism and concern about the increased risk of accidents for riders whizzing through the highly congested streets and roads of India’s megacities.
Some Indian netizens wrote on social media that they can wait for more than 10 minutes to have their meal delivered since even ambulances cannot take so little time to reach their destination.
As a result of the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, food deliveries and online grocery shopping have exploded, sparking fierce competition between companies. The most popular are Zomato and Swiggy.
After raising US$ 250 million last year, Zomato's value jumped to US$ 5.4 billion and hit $ 9.5 billion earlier this year.
Rival Swiggy, with its Instamart app, doubled its value to US$ 10.7 billion after concluding a deal with the SoftBank group.
India’s food delivery sector, which was worth US$ 4.7 billion in 2020, is expected to be worth over US$ 21 billion by 2026. However, riders are paying the price.
Several studies indicate that people delivering food feel pressured to make deliveries quickly, which pushes them to break speed limits and neglect road safety rules.
In addition to speed, these gig workers must avoid negative customer reviews if they want to get extra cash bonuses.
Instead of raising basic salaries, start-ups play with employee incentives. Instamart for example gives a weekly raise to riders who earn at least US$ 47 in seven working days, a compensation that makes the difference between city wages and limited earning opportunities in rural areas.
In addition to good reviews, riders can earn extra income if they make more deliveries at peak hours, when the roads are more congested and the demand for food at home is greater.
Yet, when they are victims of non-fatal accidents, a major problem in India, even if their medical bills are partially paid by the company, they still find themselves in debt because damages to their vehicles or support for families are not covered. Above all, many find themselves unable to return to work due to their injuries.
Shaik Salauddin, national general secretary of the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers, said that he is getting more and more calls for help from injured riders seeking compensation from home delivery start-ups.
Taking into account the time to drive, park, and perhaps climb up several floors, it is impossible to deliver a meal in 10 minutes. “You can’t make promises like that sitting in your air-conditioned offices,” Salauddin explained. “There’s no sense of humanity anymore. It’s all profit.”
According to the World Bank, 53 road accidents occur every hour in India with one death every four minutes, a figure which, according to government reports, adds up to 450,000 accidents per year and more than 150,000 deaths.
Some law enforcement agencies note that weekly incidents involving delivery workers have doubled. Although India owns only 1 per cent of vehicles, it reports 11 per cent of road-related deaths, the highest in the world, followed by China and the United States.
Before the pandemic (2018-2019), the number of overall road deaths was almost constant, with little change, but the number of deaths of motorcyclists more than doubled between 2009 and 2019.
According to road safety advocates, the causes are also to be found in the poor quality of helmets used by motorcyclists and inadequate monitoring of traffic on India’s vast road network, the second largest after the United States.
According to Anurag Kulshrestha, president of TRAX, a non-profit organisation dedicated to road safety, India is spending almost 30 to 40 times more money than recently industrialised nations on infrastructure, “but we are creating unsafe roads and going for a senseless development.”