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I’m a Delivery Driver in China. I Earn Less Than $1,700 a Month

A delivery driver’s monthly salary breakdown has prompted online discussion about unfair working conditions for food delivery employees in China

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3:01 PM HKT, Thu November 10, 2022 1 mins read

The Chinese internet is empathizing with a food delivery driver who recently made a viral video breaking down his monthly income. Many people are concerned over his “unreasonable” and “exploitative” working conditions — an indication of changing attitudes towards labor in China.

A screenshot from the food delivery driver’s video show his salary breakdown

A screenshot from the food delivery driver’s video shows his salary breakdown

At the end of last month, the takeaway driver in the video took home 12,147 RMB (about 1,687 USD) after completing 1,862 orders. That amounts to a daily average of about 60 orders, which some commenters surmise took nearly 17 hours per day.

However, this delivery driver’s salary falls at the high end of the spectrum. According to a labor survey, the average monthly salary for a delivery driver who works more than 11 hours a day is only 8,789 RMB (1,220 USD).

To put those numbers in context: China’s average monthly salary was 1,393 USD as of December 2021.

The long working hours endured by delivery drivers and other workers have prompted netizens to question China’s labor law. Last August, the country’s Supreme Court capped the legal workweek at 44 hours in response to China’s pervasive ‘996’ work culture, which means working 12 hours a day, six days a week.

a meituan delivery driver with their kid

A food delivery driver in China working with his child in tow

Two other elements from the video stood out to netizens: the driver’s lack of social security benefits and a 10 RMB (about 1.4 USD) salary deduction for every bad review.

As delivery drivers are usually hired as contractors, food delivery companies only provided them with commercial medical insurance until the government stepped in last year and required the enterprises to pay social security as well. However, this policy has only been in place for a little over a year and — judging from the video — it seems that nothing has changed.

eleme driver drops food off

A delivery driver drops off a food order

People also debated over the 10 RMB that was deducted due to a “bad review.”

One commenter wrote, “I don’t think the platform should arbitrarily deduct money from the delivery staff based on the number of bad reviews, because some bad reviews are malicious or due to customers’ [moods].”

Meanwhile, others called it a “normal punishment.”

Food delivery is incredibly efficient and affordable in China, but that arguably comes at the cost of delivery drivers’ safety. In 2020, People published an exposé of the high-risk nature of the job due to the intense time constraints required by the delivery system. Many drivers have to fight against traffic to deliver an order on time so they won’t face salary deductions.

Pushback against delivery workers’ long hours also represents a general societal shift in attitudes towards labor, as evidenced by the ‘lying flat’ movement, which encourages a more relaxed attitude towards work.

All images via Weibo

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