2022-11-23 11:07:26

Food delivery drivers in Beijing have said they have been living on the streets to continue working and earning after their residential buildings were locked down amid a surge in coronavirus infections.

In a desperate plea for help, a gig worker surnamed Zhang wrote that he and 15 other drivers were looking for affordable accommodation after their buildings were sealed Sunday. Zhang said the group feared not being able to work if they returned to their apartments, adding that they had been braving the plummeting temperatures and finding shelter wherever they could.

“Even these places are becoming inaccessible for us because people are working from home and restaurants are gradually halting dine-in services,” Zhang wrote in Tuesday’s post, along with a QR code to his WeChat account. “We can’t afford pricey hotels … We would appreciate it if someone could connect us with rental homes that cost around 50 yuan ($7) per person per day.”

The post, which has since gone viral on social media platforms, underscores the plight of the country’s gig workers, who are willing to go to extra lengths to protect their incomes at a time when their jobs have been continuously disrupted by the virus control measures.

Beijing is currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, along with several major cities, including Guangzhou in the south and Zhengzhou in central China. The capital has tightened restrictions, with some districts shutting schools, restaurants, and other public spaces to curb infections.

Delivery workers are an integral part of China’s gig economy and fuel the multi-billion dollar industry. But they’re often exploited and poorly paid, despite companies promising to improve their working conditions.

During Shanghai’s spring lockdown, the delivery workers proved to be a crucial lifeline in catering to the needs of the city’s 25 million residents. Fearing they would be unable to work if they lived in their sealed residential compounds, many of them camped out on the streets and relied on free takeouts while they fed hungry city dwellers.

Zhang said he and his coworkers, hired by food delivery platform Meituan, had slept in delivery stations, office buildings, and restaurants over the past few days.

“We insist on doing a (PCR) test every day,” he wrote in the viral post. “But we don’t want to be locked down or lose our only source of income.”

On Wednesday, a Meituan spokeswoman told Sixth Tone that the company had arranged hotels for Zhang and others, and promised to cover their expenses. The platform also plans to help other drivers facing similar problems.

Zhang confirmed on his WeChat profile that their employer had arranged accommodation for the group. He, however, didn’t respond to Sixth Tone’s interview request.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: A delivery man waits at a traffic signal in Beijing, Nov. 11, 2022. VCG)