Hong Kong, Jan 17: 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.
China’s internet industries already were known for long, demanding days.
With millions of families confined at home, demand surged and employees delivered tons of vegetables, rice, meat, diapers and other supplies, often aboard scooters that exposed them to subfreezing winter cold.
For white-collar workers in the technology industry, pay is better than in some industries but employees are often expected to work 12 hours a day or more.
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. In an indication of high-level concern, the official Xinhua News Agency called for shorter work hours, describing long hours of overtime at the expense of employees’ health as an illegal operation.
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.
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.
Details of Liu’s complaint could not be verified and Eleme did not immediately respond to a request for comment. – AP