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The precarious lives of Chinese delivery workers who keep the country running through ‘zero-Covid’

The precarious lives of Chinese delivery workers who keep the country running through ‘zero-Covid’

Stringent lockdowns in many Chinese cities – under the obsessive and inflexible “zero-Covid” strategy of the Communist Party of China – has resulted in an economic slowdown and citizens suffering, even as China justifies the restrictions with aggressive rhetoric.

Among the worst affected are the country’s labouring masses, with anger and exasperations violently breaking out on factory floors. Once again, the burden has fallen upon delivery workers to be the lifelines of cities to ensure that food and supplies are provided without interruptions.

Parallel to China’s vigorous urbanisation drive has been the rise of the services sector, especially of application-based on-demand services, in logistics, transport, and hospitality.

These services have developed in tune with the needs of an increasingly consumerist middle-class population in cities. While the delivery workers – overwhelmingly male, rural migrants – are part of the daily urban landscape, the pandemic has proactively visibilised and front-lined them.

Beyond valourisation

According to the Chinese Ministry of Human Resource and Social Security, there are about 200 million workers in “flexible” employment. Many of them were earlier factory employees who moved to gig work to escape the monotony of assembly lines and earn higher earnings as well as have some autonomy.

Beyond their selfless services – that have been valourised – lie precarious lives controlled and surveilled by algorithms, and arduous working...

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