DEATHS, SELF-IMMOLATION OF DELIVERY DRIVERS STUMP CHINA
E-commerce workers who kept China fed during the coronavirus pandemic, making their billionaire bosses even richer, are so unhappy with their pay and treatment that one just set himself on fire in protest, Zen Soo reported for the Associated Press (AP).
These internet industries already were known for long, demanding days but the human cost caught public attention after the deaths of two employees from e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, known for selling fresh produce at low prices.
Their deaths prompted suggestions they were overworked.
Renewed concerns over dire working conditions for delivery drivers also came to the forefront when a video circulated on Chinese social media showing what it said was a driver for Ele.me, part of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, setting himself on fire to protest unpaid wages.
The controversy is a blow to the image of internet industries that are transforming China’s economy and generating new jobs. They have made some of the founders among the world’s wealthiest entrepreneurs. During the heights of the pandemic, the fortunes of the biggest, including Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Pinduoduo founder Colin Huang, swelled as online consumer spending boomed.
In a video widely circulated on Chinese social media, 45-year-old delivery driver Liu Jin poured gasoline and set himself on fire outside a distribution station for Eleme in the eastern city of Taizhou, shouting that he wanted his money. Others snuffed the flames and rushed him to a hospital, where he is being treated for third-degree burns on his body.
Separately, a 43-year-old delivery driver collapsed on the job and died last week while delivering food for Eleme. The issue was highlighted again after a Pinduoduo employee surnamed Tan committed suicide after taking leave from the firm to return to his hometown, less than two weeks after a 22-year-old employee surnamed Zhang in Urumqi collapsed while walking home from work with colleagues, and later passed away.
The issue has also cast a spotlight on the working conditions of delivery drivers, who are under heavy pressure to get orders to customers quickly and at times make less than 10 yuan ($1.55) per delivery. If they fail to meet deadlines, fines imposed can range from as little as 1 yuan ($0.15) to as much as 500 yuan ($77.30) if a customer lodges a complaint. As part of the gig economy, such delivery workers often do not get the benefits provided to full-time employees, such as social or medical insurance.
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