Labor disputes surrounding China’s leading food delivery service Ele.me are back in the spotlight. After several couriers anonymously complained about the firm’s unreasonable reward system during the Chinese New Year on Weibo, Ele.me apologized yesterday for misjudging the number of possible delivery orders and promised to fix the system.
To support China’s travel restriction plans, a measure taken to curb a possible COVID-19 resurgence, Ele.me encouraged food delivery drivers to stay put and keep working through the holiday. They did so by issuing a reward system, creating a 49-day reward project divided into seven week-long periods with separate delivery targets. The couriers who met more goals in these seven periods would get a greater bonus.
Though the firm did not reveal precise numbers, Weibo users familiar with the matter said that meeting six of seven goals meant getting a 4600 yuan (around $710) reward, while completing all goals would gross 8200 yuan, or about around $1264.
A trending Vlog (in Chinese) posted by a delivery driver on Weibo earlier this week publicly denounced Ele.me’s behavior. Based in Beijing, Mr. Chen said that drivers were asked to complete 380 orders in the fourth period, compared to 218 orders per week in the past.
The goal, claim critics, would have been impossible to reach since the fourth period coincided with the start of the Lunar New Year when many stores closed for the holiday.
“Spring Festival is a holiday period. Lots of people living in the city haven’t returned yet,” Chen said in an interview with Sixth Tone. “Plus, many businesses have not yet opened.”
However, Ele.me’s apology was not accepted by many netizens and some suspected the firm was not planning to give out the rewards.
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“For many of us, 8200 yuan is only a small part of our monthly revenue, but these couriers kept working during holidays. I would never use Ele.me again,” said a Weibo user.
This is not the first time food delivery apps face criticism over labor conditions. In September 2020, a widely circulated feature (in Chinese) explained how the industry sets tight delivery times, levies fines for delays, and even suggests faster routes that violate traffic rules. Last month, the death of a 43-year-old Ele.me driver ushered in yet more anger.