Illustration: Chen Xia/GT
As online food ordering becomes a popular lifestyle choice for many city dwellers in China, an increasing number of food delivery workers are pouring into first- and second-tier cities in order to meet this demand.
While these hardworking people make life easier for urbanites who have neither the time, or inclination, to prepare their own meals, the lot of these workers in large cities is anything but easy. In fact, their personal safety, dignity and basic human rights seem to be routinely comprised by the nature of their duties and their treatment by employers.
The most pressing issue in the food delivery game is the number of workers being seriously injured, and occasionally killed, in traffic accidents. Statistics unveiled last week show that 76 such workers were injured or killed (the report failed to provide a distinction) in Shanghai alone in the first six months of 2017.
Likewise, in Shenzhen, there have been 311 cases of traffic accidents involving food delivery men over the same period. Shockingly, 52 of those incidents ended in fatalities. Notably, the report concluded, the majority of accidents seem to have been caused by dangerous driving by the food delivery men who died.
So why is there such an issue with delivery workers ignoring basic traffic safety rules and needlessly putting their own lives, and others, at risk?
One reason is that many workers originally hail from villages, small towns and rural areas, where they will not be as familiar with the chaotic and congested nature of big city roads and highways. A news report quoted a delivery worker telling a police officer who pulled him over for running a red light: "But I always drive like this in my hometown."
However, I also think that food ordering platforms need to shoulder far more responsibility for the huge spike in accidents. Many of these businesses provide little to no training in basic road safety for their workers. One reason may be that attrition rates are very high, leading many firms to feel there is little point investing in staff who aren't going to stay around for very long.
Regardless, it appears many such platforms are putting efficiency and profits before staff safety. In order to impress existing customers - and attract new ones - apps often set strict, and often unrealistic, time limits for staff to achieve, usually making a food delivery within 30 minutes of an order being taken.
Sadly, anyone who lives in China will be aware that service and waitstaff are financially penalized for mistakes in food orders, and this also extends to late deliveries. Little wonder that hard-pressed workers surviving on subsistence wages are tempted to speed when it comes to getting orders in on time, sometimes with tragic consequences.
So what can be done to prevent future accidents? To begin with, food ordering platforms need to be compelled by the authorities to implement better training systems to improve workers' driving skills and road safety awareness. In this regard, Hangzhou is already showing the way. City traffic bosses now require food delivery staff to pass a basic traffic safety test before being able to enter the industry. And if a driver is found to have contravened any traffic regulations, he or she has to re-attend the training and take the test again.
In Shenzhen, meanwhile, the traffic department has created an online system to monitor all delivery apps and workers in the city. Anyone found transgressing traffic laws will be barred from driving for a week. A second offence will see them barred for two weeks, and a third misdemeanor will see them off the roads for a whole year.
These apps also need to be more flexible around realistic delivery times, and to make allowances for bad weather and other unforeseen holdups. And under no circumstances should poorly paid workers have their salaries docked for situations beyond their control.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.