Bicycle couriers in China’s own “logistics revolution”

Bicycle couriers in China’s own “logistics revolution”
Image from 浙江在线.

Translation by Chuang of《快递员可以有多惨?》(How bad can it get for couriers?) by 林海, from the 工业区观察 (Industrial Zone Observer) WeChat feed, April 6, 2016. (Original Chinese reposted below.)

With the decline of exports and manufacturing over the past few years, Premier Li Keqiang has been touting e-commerce as crucial for China’s transition to a service-based and consumer-driven economy. E-commerce cannot function without express deliveryin China characterized by the growing army of bicycle couriers visible on almost every street corner. “China’s express delivery market has been growing at more than 30 per cent for the past few years, replacing the US as the world’s biggest by volume, thanks to the e-commerce boom.”1

For ten days starting on March 21st, Shenzhen traffic police began a massive crackdown on unlicensed motorized vehicles (mainly electric bicycles and tricycles) commonly used as taxis and to transport goods over short distances. 17,975 vehicles were impounded and 874 drivers were detained, leading to clashes with the police. This brought the plight of express couriers into mainstream news media.2 The brief article translated below is the first we have seen that attempts to go beyond the inconvenience caused by such crackdowns to investigate the changing work conditions of this increasingly important sector of China’s post-2008 economy.

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After the crackdown on unlicensed vehicles in Shenzhen, several thousand couriers quit their jobs, causing widespread concern about Shenzhen’s sudden enforcement of policies. Since then, Shenzhen traffic police have clarified that this crackdown was not intended to affect the express delivery industry, but the damage has been done: drivers were arrested, their vehicles impounded. The incident has already affected those involved, leading inevitably to discussion. As for those who are dissatisfied with law enforcement authorities, we have already seen many articles sympathizing with the couriers. Beyond this, however, the incident has also called our attention to the labor conditions of express delivery work as an industry.

First of all, express delivery is a part of the contemporary transport industry. Its conditions of work are special: besides the warehouse where goods are picked up, it has no fixed point of production or operations. Express delivery workers and their goods are always on the road. From one transport point to the next, when they pick up or drop off their goods, the task of their labor has either just started or is nearing its completion. As for an express delivery person’s place of work and labor conditions, most of the time it is a lonely and individual struggle, through wind and rain, always answering phones and passing along messages, climbing stairs and hiking up hills, passing through streets and alleyways, ceaselessly trekking across the city to its every corner.

As the express delivery industry has risen with the increasing popularity of e-commerce in China, it has been painted by some as a sought-after job where one can make a good living. Perhaps in its first years express delivery was actually quite well paid, but after many years of competition, few have noticed that the actual conditions of express delivery workers have changed:

12 hour days, delivering over 300 items a day, sorting several tons of cargo, carrying at least 7 or 8 kilograms per load, walking over 40 kilometers per day, climbing over 46 flights of stairs, required to keep their phones on 24 hours a days, with phone bills over a hundred yuan paid by the workers themselves on a monthly income of only 3,400 yuan ($523 US)…. All these figures describe the daily work life of every express delivery courier.

This industry, first of all, has no fixed workplace and the conditions are unpredictable (depending on constantly changing weather and road conditions). In addition, the industry has an extremely social aspect to it, as the task of picking up and dropping off items requires making social contact and expending emotional labor. Delivery workers are not merely like vehicles that transport goods, nor are they like workers doing repetitive tasks along a production line.

In reality, not only do couriers need to be familiar with the layout, traffic and appearance of a city, their work involves people every step of the way. Those who give them their packages to deliver are customers; those to whom they deliver packages are also customers. Although they are alone while on the road, the beginning and end of each trip requires interaction with people and the expenditure of emotion.

When their daily deliveries exceed a hundred trips, that implies they need to make contact with hundreds of people, waiting for them to hand off or pick up the goods. Couriers aren’t receptionists–their situation is actually much more difficult. As they make contact with others along the way, they cannot be upset when a customer is late, nor can they vent their anger on customers because of the heavy workload. Each day, they are like transport machines moving to and fro, but at the same time they are obliged to politely greet hundreds of customers with a smile.

In addition to these particularly difficult working conditions, the most distinctive feature of couriers’ work is that the employment situation differs completely from traditional models. According to reports, there is an open secret about the express delivery industry: nearly one million couriers have not signed contracts and do not have social insurance.

“(We) want only young men, as long as they’re willing to endure hardship.” “The base wage is 2,000 yuan ($307 US) per month for at least 100 deliveries per day, with a commission of 0.5 yuan per delivery. After three months you can get a raise.” “Do you get social insurance?” “No. We buy insurance for the vehicles only.” The journalist asked what happens if a courier is injured on the job, and they responded, “That’s why they need to be careful when making deliveries.”

Most express delivery couriers don’t sign contracts or get social insurance; companies give them only accident insurance. Their style of work requires them to be constantly on the road, and their lack of contracts, work accident insurance and other social insurances gives them cause to doubt the protection of their occupational health. As couriers race around the city streets, few people realize that they have basically no safety net; they can only try to watch out for themselves, and trade their sweat and toil in for a bit of income.

On top of this, express delivery companies’ management methods can often be boiled down to one word: penalties. Today, as countless factory workers fight for pensions, medical insurance, etc., most couriers lack even a contract, not to mention basic social insurance, company benefits, subsidies, or humane management practices.

With their ever-changing work environment, highly individualized work, lack of contracts and social insurance, not to mention the necessity to constantly expend emotional energy when interacting with customers, it is difficult for couriers to organize themselves and bargain with their companies. Looking back on Shenzhen’s crackdown on unlicensed vehicles, we can see that thousands of couriers quickly left their jobs. In this instance of “sudden enforcement of the law,” what they lost was just one of their tools, but perhaps what they had been missing all along was really something more.

(Quotations from online news sources.)

Related readings:

Meituan delivery workers on strike” (2016)

China’s e-commerce workers protest over wage arrears, contracts” (2015)

The Tianjin Explosion: A Tragedy of Profit, Corruption, and China’s Complicated Transition” (2015)

Port trucker strike Ningbo, China” (2014)

Strike at Logistics Company Causes Delivery Delays” (2013)

Comparing port strikes: Hong Kong vs. Shenzhen, 2013” (2013)

 


原文:

快递员可以有多惨

2016-04-06 林海 工业区观察

一个禁摩令,数千快递员离职,掀起了对深圳市突然执法的大量质疑。事到如今,虽然深圳交警日前澄清禁摩令并非蓄意打压快递业,然而人已抓、车已扣,事件对当事人的影响和掀起的舆论声讨已是无可避免,许多快递员被拘留扣车乃至离职也已无可挽回。关于不满行政执法、同情快递业劳动者的文章,我们已看到很多。但除此之外,此次事件亦引起我们关注快递业作为一个行业的劳动状况。

快递业,首先是属于现代物流业的一种。它的劳动条件特殊,除了货仓交接点,它没有固定的生产和营业场所。快递员和货品一直都在路上,从一个运输点到另一运输点,当他们交接货品的时候,劳动任务便宣告开始和接近完成。而快递员的工作场所与劳动条件,大部分时间却是一个人的单打独斗、风里来雨里去、随时接打电话传递信息,必要时爬楼爬坡走街串巷,时时刻刻穿梭在城市大大小小的角落。

当快递业随着中国网购行业的崛起而突然成为热门行当,在一些渲染之下,快递员被描述为日进斗金的抢手职业。或许初始几年快递员的确曾红红火火赚大钱,然而几年的竞争之后,少有人关注的是,快递业真正的劳动状况已然变质:

“12小时的工作时间,日送件量突破300件,分拣货物重达数吨,负重最轻也要七八公斤,每日步行40多公里、爬楼超过46层,同时手机24小时全开,话费上百需要自己承担,每月平均收入只有3400元……这所有的数字,勾勒出了一个快递员每一天的工作状态。”

 

这个行业,首先是有着完全不固定的工作场所和相当随机(随天气路况而无时无刻不在变化)的工作条件;其次,它又有着非常社交的一面,即接送任务都需要与人打交道、付出情绪的劳动。快递员并不能如同车辆一样单纯运输货物就好,他们也并非流水线工人成日重复着不变的动作。

事实上,快递员不仅需要熟悉城市的地图地貌与轨道交通,他们的工作还每时每刻都与人有关。他们接到任务的对象来自客户,传递任务的对象亦是客户。虽然传递的过程中独自在路上,但任务的开始和结束却都要与人打交道、付出感情与情绪。

当他们日送货数量过百,这同时意味着他们也要与数百人打交道,等待他们交付和取走货品。快递员不是接待员,却比接待员还要辛苦。在与人打交道的过程中,他们既不能因为客户的拖延而不满,也不能因为工作数量多而冲客户发脾气。每天,他们如同运输机器一般来来回回,却也同时承担着对数百人微笑服务、礼貌交接的责任。

 

而如此辛苦的劳动条件之下,快递业劳动的一个大特点却是:他们的雇佣模式与传统的雇佣模式不同。据报导,快递业拥有公开的秘密是:近百万快递员未签合同未缴保险。

“只要是小伙子,肯吃苦就要。”“底薪2000元,每天至少送满100单,每单可以提成0.5元。满3个月可以再加工资。”“给不给缴保险?”“不缴。我们只是给送货的电动车投了保。”记者问,如果送货中快递人员受伤怎么办?“所以说骑车送货要小心点。”

大部份快递员都是不签合同、不买保险、公司只提供意外伤害保险。他们的工作模式决定他们一直在路上,而缺乏合同、工伤保险及其他保险也令他们的职业健康保障存疑。当快递员辛勤奔波在城市交通要道,鲜少有人知道他们几乎没有任何保障,只能自己小心保护自己、以血汗力气换来些微的提成收入。

此外,快递公司对于快递员的管理也常常是简单粗暴——一个字:罚。而今,当工厂工人们纷纷争取到养老保险、医疗保险等,不少快递员却连劳动合同都欠奉,更别提基本保险、公司福利、津贴待遇、人性化管理。

而他们变化多端的工作环境、以个人为单位的工作、缺乏合同保险的劳动条件、以及随时要与客户打交道的情绪付出等多种原因交织,也使得快递员很难自我组织起来,与公司讨价还价。当深圳市禁摩令发出时,我们看到的消息便是,数千快递员很快离职。他们在这次突然执法中或许只是失去了工具,而他们一直以来失去的,却是更多。

(注:文中引用来自媒体报道,图片来自网络。)


Notes:

 

  1. Chinese couriers may love it but the idea of drones doesn’t fly with FedEx,” SCMP, May 1, 2016.
  2. English reports: “Over 300 people detained, thousands of black bikes seized in Shenzhen police crackdown on illegal taxi services,” “China Detains over 800 in Unlicensed Electric Vehicles Crackdown,” “New rules for Shenzhen’s Express Vehicles“; Chinese: “深圳最严禁摩令:快递业受重创.”

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