“Anna, can you do a video on how to become a Swiggy delivery boy?”
A popular query posed to those who do YouTube explainer videos. Many have taken to responding to these requests. The videos garner considerable views and the comments section is rife with questions from eager job seekers about the various aspects of the job ranging from salary to working hours and perks.
The roads of Chennai are a sea of orange, black and red these days, as the food delivery services Swiggy, Zomato and UberEats grow in size. Swiggy, the leading food delivery service became a unicorn, valued at $1 billion, during its latest funding round. Along with Zomato and UberEats, the three services make up a bulk of the food delivery ecosystem that according to reports is set to generate a turnover of $700 million this year. The backbone of such a system is without doubt the hardworking delivery personnel, who ensure that the food reaches the customer on time.
But what do the big numbers mean for its employees who make the system tick? Reports and anecdotal evidence reveal that employment in food delivery businesses is one of the more lucrative entry level jobs available in the so-called gig economy. The requirements for the job are minimal: the possession of a smartphone and a two-wheeler.
An abundance of options
While entry level IT jobs in Chennai and most Tier 2 cities pay no more than Rs 15000-Rs 17000 (unless the employment is with an MNC), food delivery persons employed by the three major services earn Rs 25000 – Rs 30000 on an average. Small wonder, therefore, that many graduates who actually graduated from IT or related courses, have turned to the food delivery business for jobs.
In Chennai, where the volume of business is less than in other metro cities, the pay is in fact slightly less than what delivery persons earn in other parts of the country. A large portion of the earnings come from incentives provided to the delivery persons based on the number of deliveries made and the distance covered by them.
“We get Rs 35 per delivery and Rs 10 as incentive for every delivery beyond 4 kilometres. There are also daily targets that if met will get us more perks. The daily targets used to give us Rs 200 extra,” says Dhinesh, a delivery executive with Swiggy.
Among other perks that attract job seekers, an important one is the flexibility of timing. Many college students take to part time employment as food delivery persons for supplementary income. “I go to classes during the day. Once I finish study at 5 pm, I work as delivery person for Zomato. I am able to put in around 5-6 hours each day and I make close to Rs 13000 per month. It helps me pay for my tuition. A lot of my peers also do the same,” says Richard, a student in a polytechnic college in the city.
The job also provides delivery persons the option of working nights and during the holiday season for a higher pay. This is a huge draw for those who can work long or odd hours and are looking to earn some extra income. “Night deliveries come with a higher pay, so if I am free, I do not mind working through the night. There are a few all-night restaurants while the rest shut by 2 am. The volume of orders is much less, of course. I do three to five deliveries at most during the night,” says Ezhil who works with Swiggy.
Not a bed of roses
While most delivery persons are content with the pay, not all is rosy. “These companies do not provide PF, insurance, pension or other benefits. There is no social security. If someone loses his job there is no severance. It’s something they approach on a day to day basis. The company also doesn’t treat them as employees but contract workers, so there is limited liability for them. Work is driven by incentive and the perks make it seem like a desirable system, but it is really not so” says Arumugam, a leader of the trade union CITU.
Questions have also been raised over the sustainability of the relatively high pay and incentive model. As the services compete with each other and try to undercut competition, the perks on offer are on the rise now. But as the case of ride-sharing services like Uber and Ola have demonstrated, the incentive and pay structure is liable to change that could be detrimental to the workers.
Finally, there are the risks on the job. A recent study by Satta Panchayat Iyakkam found that 73% of the food delivery persons did not obey traffic rules. Riding without helmets, over speeding and jumping red lights are common offences that have led to many accidents. The city’s traffic police has been forced to acknowledge the danger and have held awareness and sensitisation programs for food delivery persons.
“We have been dealing with these issues by talking to the delivery companies and the violators themselves. Traffic police have been instructed to address them collectively and hold talks on rules to be followed to ensure that there are no mishaps,” said a representative from the office of the Assistant Commissioner (Traffic).
A spokesperson for UberEats said, “All delivery persons have been instructed to strictly adhere to traffic rules and avoid speeding to make deliveries on time. The algorithm is also optimised to provide realistic delivery times, so there is less pressure on the delivery persons.”
To be fair, food delivery jobs have provided many youth in the city a chance to make a good living, a way out of poverty and debt. But while the going looks good in the sector today, the flip side of it is an increasingly common feature of many new-age contractual jobs: the lack of a safety net. It remains to be seen whether employees can be gainfully employed in these sectors for a reasonably long term or whether they can, at least, be sufficiently insulated from sudden changes to the business.