Manikandan, 20, does not eat breakfast most of the time. A cup of tea and bread is as good as it gets. He takes a shower, puts on a t-shirt that shows the brand of the food delivery app he’s delivering for, the clock shows 10 minutes at 11:00 a.m. and he’s on his way.
For a little over two years, since he was 18, Manikandan has been taking care of food deliveries. living with an aunt since the death of both parents a few years ago, he uses his income to pay school fees and meet some household expenses. The money isn’t much though, despite working 12-hour shifts, six days a week.
“I earn an average of Rs 20 per order and my income is Rs 500 per day, of which Rs 300 goes to gasoline,” he tells us as we hitchhike with him on the food delivery trail. . “What should I do with Rs 200? He asks with a smile, rhetorically.
A little over 10 minutes later, we arrive at a food court near Manikandan’s house in the Mogappair district of West Chennai. These hubs see many delivery agents coming together in hopes of securing lunch orders. “The longer you wait for restaurants, the more likely you are to get an order,” Manikandan says knowingly. “I didn’t know that when I first started making deliveries. I would spend days waiting in random corners wondering why I don’t get orders at all,” he adds, “Some friends that I met on the way to delivery tipped me this, and it has become handy ever since. “
For weeks, social media has been abuzz about the alleged hardships, exploitation and appalling working conditions facing concert workers – food delivery agents, taxi drivers and instant messaging staff. Complaints ranged from low fees, ridiculous incentives, and extremely short delivery times.
For starters, the 11am to 11pm delivery routine is ruthless at best. As we follow Manikandan, we learn what it is like to scramble for a few hundred rupees. Barely a few minutes after our stop, Manikandan’s phone beeped. An order is placed. Once inside, the pressure to deliver is well and truly present, thanks to unrealistic deadlines set by food delivery apps.
“I am given a maximum of 5 minutes to reach the restaurant, 5 minutes to collect orders and 5 minutes to deliver orders to the customer,” he says. “Only then will I receive long distance orders in the future.” Why are food delivery agents targeting long distance orders, anyway? While a short to medium range delivery pays off. to an agent around Rs 20 per order, longer trips bring in more money. If this money amounts to Rs 475 per day or more, the agent receives an incentive of Rs 225. The only problem: it doesn’t. does not always happen.
“If we are penalized, we don’t get the money promised per order, or we just get the penalty imposed and the money is deducted from our weekly earnings,” Manikandan explains. Penalties are a deal breaker for concert workers. They are usually imposed for delays, overflows and bad customer ratings, and affect incentives, which in turn reduce weekly earnings.
Back on the delivery track, Manikandan stops for a cup of coffee. Snack breaks are rare, mainly because food delivery agents, he says, can’t reject orders. “The moment I sit down to eat my phone beeps and I get an order,” he says. “I am also not in a position to reject this order, as it will impact my grades.”
Despite the odds and a system whose interests are not necessarily aligned with those of his workers, Manikandan says he intends to continue delivering food at least until the end of his studies. Other jobs are hard to find during the pandemic, and unskilled labor is not an option. “A lot of others like me appreciate our education, but we work these jobs to raise enough money to pay for the tuition,” he says. “I will try to save as much as possible by organizing food deliveries.”
(Edited by : Jomy Jos Pullokaran)