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In Myanmar, Workers and Activists Take on a Food Delivery Giant

Riders for online food delivery service Foodpanda have gone on strike, accusing the German-owned company of slashing rates while putting workers at risk as they navigate Myanmar’s increasingly dangerous cities. Foodpanda and its major rival, Deliveroo, have imposed fee cuts on delivery workers across Asia, who represent an easy target for economising measures amid rising global costs. But in several countries, workers have fought back. Delivery workers in Myanmar can expect no help from authorities under a military regime preoccupied with crushing dissent.

Thousands of German-owned app-based delivery service Foodpanda riders have been on strike since June, demanding better working conditions. The striking riders say they are no longer being compensated fairly for their grueling work. Since the coup rates have been slashed by almost two-thirds. The workers are struggling with skyrocketing basic food prices in the aftermath of the coup and only get 16 US cents per ride.

The striking workers have demanded that Foodpanda take responsibility for injuries suffered during working hours, calculate the correct distance for delivery, pay more per ride and allow one day off every week. It is the second time delivery riders have gone on strike, after an attempt in March ended without any concessions from the company. Foodpanda has failed to meet most demands, and the company is also being accused of targeting striking workers.

Foodpanda’s fee reductions have come at a time when Myanmar’s economy is reeling from the effects of COVID-19 and the February 2021 coup. The junta’s mismanagement of the economy has sent the value of the kyat plummeting and commodity prices soaring. The World Bank has estimated a doubling in poverty in Myanmar over the last two years, with 40% of the population now living below the poverty line.

Since the coup, employers have leveraged increased unemployment and the insecurity of renewed military rule to reduce wages, shift workers to casual arrangements and cease paying severance and other benefits. Companies have also sought to fire union members and organisers.

Given increased labour law violations across the board in Myanmar, it is not at all clear that so-called responsible investment by foreign companies is even possible under current conditions of military rule.

The delivery workers’ fightback continues. With the country’s military regime more interested in crushing dissent than defending workers’ rights, couriers have instead sought the support of student unions and underground groups that formed to resist the coup. Failed negotiations sparked a fresh round of strikes in June, alongside a customer boycott campaign that is being amplified online by anti-coup activists, some with tens of thousands of social media followers. To promote what they called the Zero Customer Campaign, they combined social media messaging with more direct forms of engagement with the public.

The boycott campaign has been turbocharged by the support of student unions and resistance groups. Several of these groups have issued calls for solidarity to their tens of thousands of social media followers.

Foodpanda, however, is still largely refusing to budge, leaving the remaining strikers running short on cash and hope. The company appears to be fending off the boycott by advertising regular discounts of up to 50% on orders. Probably the workers must place their hopes in the nationwide resistance movement one day prevailing against the junta and creating a fairer society. If the revolution wins, Foodpanda will lose.

Foodpanda riders protest in February 2021, during the first mass demonstration after the coup. (Photo by Frontier)


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