Chinese food delivery service Ele.me launched a “five minutes more function” on its app Wednesday. If customers are not in a hurry, they can stop their delivery rider being penalized for being slow, especially if the driver’s credit rating is already good.
Ele.me has added the new option, “I'm willing to wait 5/10 minutes more” that customers can click at the point of payment. The move follows an article, “Takeaway Rider, Stuck in the System” (link in Chinese), which reported on the many day-to-day risks taken by riders, many of whom are on very low wages, in order to make their delivery targets.
The company says it hopes the new feature will reward riders with good credit service ratings and not penalize them for taking extra time if customers press the button, declaring that “every hardworking person in society deserves respect.” It asked its customers to give their “blue knights” a little more time for a “red packet” reward or free snack.
What’s the story?
“Takeaway Rider, Stuck in the System”, published by Renwu magazine, went viral this week on Chinese social media.
“These workers are not just digital nodes but flesh and blood individuals,” wrote Renwu, going on to argue that no matter how the technology changes or how innovative the model, it is the duty of the company to ensure the health of their workers who provide services while protecting the interests of consumers.
While the article wrote that “exhausted” food delivery riders deserve society’s concern, providing an “extra 5/10 minutes” function may only have addressed the symptom of a far larger problem – labor regulations. Renwu argued that the law is effectively playing catch up with consumer demand in a fast-paced digital economy.
According to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the number of people working as delivery personnel every day has reached 1 million. Ele.me rival Meituan Dianping had nearly 3 million riders on its books in the first half of 2020. Many takeaway riders race against time, running red lights, going against traffic and speeding through the city for the sake of a few yuan per ride. Food delivery apps may provide efficiency and service, but in doing so, have long been accused of walking over employee rights.
What are people saying online?
Hungry netizens are not feeling so charitable. Word of the new function received thousands of comments, with the most popular expressing cynicism. “I will give him five more minutes, but I’m sure he won’t use them to ride slowly or obey the traffic rules. He will just use the time to take another order. This policy only treats the symptoms and not the cause.”
Another felt the new system was rigged against people ordering large meals. “A rider will always prioritize a small order over a big one, because it will take less time to prepare. Takeaways are not a one-to-one delivery service. Whoever presses ‘wait’ will suffer while the rider will not benefit.”
Others declared their support for the option “with hands and feet” and asked fellow supporters to send photos of their slower deliveries. One person said “I want to support this. There are too many uncontrollable factors in the industry. I had a situation in which the rider kept calling to apologize and explain exactly what had gone wrong while he was meant to be watching the road.”
One comment on Chinese online media site Seashell Finance said, “If you really feel bad about the rider, don’t let the customer decide to give them five minutes more. The company only needs to announce that riders will not be fined or deducted for a five minute delay. They are reluctant to do this because they need to use speed to attract customer orders, and transfer the responsibility for overtime to the customer and the rider.”
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