#3 | Dhiraj - Jumping signals to deliver food on time
Life of a gig worker - research series
The love I received for last week’s story was overwhelming. Thank you. Here is my favourite one.
Have you ever wondered what motivates food delivery executives to take risks, like jumping signals or driving recklessly in traffic just to deliver food to their customers? What happens if they meet with an accident? Are they covered by health insurance? Do they have friends in the city whom they could call for help? If they end up in the hospital, do they have other family members who can support them financially? And when they return to work, will they be as efficient as before, or might they suffer from health issues like back pain over time? Additionally, could younger and more energetic individuals replace them eventually? Is being a delivery person a temporary gig or a long-term career choice? These questions often come to mind when I see a delivery person cutting me off on the road. In today's story, I found some answers that might change your perspective a bit.
(Note: To preserve the privacy and confidentiality of each individual, we took great care to mask their names and any other personally identifiable information. The interviews were conducted online in Hindi and translated into English. The transcript is minimally edited for a better reading experience)
Table of contents
Highschool graduation at 27
The journey before Zomato
Managing health and taking rest
Traffic, delivery and penalty
Highschool graduation at 27
What is your education qualification like?
I have finished my inter (12th standard) and enrolled in a BA program. It took me ten years to complete my inter due to a bad family situation. I gave my matric exam (10th standard) in 2012. I am 27 years old now. In 2022, I completed my inter. In these 10 years, I was working.
How did you decide to complete your 12th after a gap of 10 years?
During the lockdown, I went to my village. At that time, I started receiving painting work opportunities. A couple of people in the village mentioned that there was painting work available, and I thought it would be better than just sitting around doing nothing. So, I took up painting work in the village for a year. While I was there, I realized that since I was already in the village, there would be no difficulty in taking the exam. Therefore, I decided to take the exam while staying in the village.
Did you find it challenging to study after a long gap?
No, no, no. Where did I study?! I haven’t studied! For inter, I never attended classes or did anything. I used to watch videos and such on my mobile here and there. No, I haven’t studied. I cleared the intermediate exams just like that. Yes, I was worried, really worried. I was scared that if I failed, what would the villagers say? They would tease me, saying I attended the exam without studying anything, and so on. I was tense about it. But what could I do? I thought, if I have to write the exam, then I have to write it. I didn't bother about what others would say. If I failed, I would deal with it, but if I passed, it would be helpful for me. Why should I care about what others think? They are always waiting to find something to tease people about.
The journey before Zomato
Before Zomato, where were you working?
I worked for a few days in Chandigarh, primarily doing paint and texture work on walls, as well as POP and ceiling work. After that, I moved to Bangalore and worked in a garment company for one and a half years.
How did you decide to shift to Zomato?
The paintwork, Madam, was okay, but it left a lot of residue on the body throughout the day. It would only come off when we returned to our room in the evening and freshened up. Otherwise, we couldn't go anywhere with all that paint on us. So, after work, we stayed indoors. We had to do what was necessary at that time. I didn't have much knowledge about other options, so I stuck to that work.
Later, when I came here, I joined a company to handle dispatch work. There was a garment company nearby, a Private firm. They asked about my educational background and skills, and they assigned me a task which I agreed to do. I worked efficiently, and while everyone left by 5.30 PM, I stayed an extra hour daily to provide reports to the supervisors, project managers, and general managers. I had to report to various heads in the company. I worked there for about one and a half years.
Then the lockdown started, and I went back to the village. After returning from the village, I realized that the payment I received at my previous job was comparatively lower, Madam. It was Rs. 10000 or Rs. 11000. If I do overtime sometimes then I would get Rs. 15000.
When I arrived here, I started doing online food delivery work. It's manageable, but it requires hard work. We begin our day at 8 in the morning. However, currently, I'm feeling a bit unwell. Since yesterday, I have had a full-body ache and fever. I took some medicine and decided to rest for a day. But I can't rest for long; it's not possible. Typically, we go out at 8 in the morning and return to our room by 3 PM. Then, we head out again around 5 or 6 in the evening and work until 10 at night. It brings in around Rs. 1000 in earnings per day.
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Managing health and taking rest
Why do you say your earnings will be less this week?
This time, my payout won't happen as usual because my health has deteriorated. Yesterday, I came in the afternoon and stayed back in my room because I had a lot of body pain. So, I didn't feel like going out. Thankfully, I'm feeling better now as I have taken the medicine. I plan to rest today and see how I feel tomorrow.
How much will that affect your income?
In the app, there are time slots that we have to book for our work hours. I deleted those slots today, the ones I had previously booked. Unfortunately, even if you delete a booked slot, they still charge you a cancellation fee. Earlier, I had booked a slot for today, not knowing that I would fall sick or get a fever. When I cancelled it, they charged me a cancellation fee, which gets deducted from the earnings for the work we had done.
To delete the duty for one day and one hour, they charge Rs. 5. If we don't delete it ourselves, they deduct Rs. 10 from our earnings. Additionally, there are different levels in the app, such as bronze, silver, and diamond, which get upgraded as you work more. Higher levels come with better orders. However, they also reduce the level after deducting the cancellation fee. So, to maintain our level and avoid unnecessary deductions, we prefer to delete the slots ourselves if we don't plan to work during those hours.
What are the benefits of these levels? Do you think the orders increase or decrease on the basis of that, or what is it?
No, there is no increase or decrease in my orders. I mostly stay in the diamond level because I work continuously. However, the number of orders I receive depends on the performance level displayed in blue in the app. Otherwise, everyone receives similar types of orders. Regardless of being in the Bronze, Silver, or Diamond level, after working for the entire day, we all receive similar earnings. If someone works for the full day, they will earn around Rs. 1000.
Interestingly, sometimes it seems that the person who starts at 8 AM and the person who starts at 10 or 9 AM receive the same number of orders. The orders are distributed based on this criterion, not allowing anyone to get more or less.
Then what is the benefit of these levels?
There is no direct benefit from reaching this level. It's more about feeling good about ourselves. Zomato claims that having higher levels may result in customers giving tips and providing better ratings. That's why we strive to maintain and improve our levels.
Where do you wait while your orders arrive?
In Zomato, they prioritize areas with more restaurants, so that's where they dispatch orders faster. I usually stay in those areas with higher order volumes. The phone shows me the high-order areas, and if they assign me to a far-off location, the location details appear on the phone, and I move there. However, if I discover that the new place is also a high-order area, I wait there instead of going to the other location. There are two areas here, HSR and Koramangala, both within Zomato. If we travel far, like 10 or 15 kilometres, they will eventually ask us to return to either Koramangala or HSR. But if we know that there's a high-order area nearby, we wait there, and they assign us orders accordingly.
Where do we wait in these areas?
There is no facility for sitting down, so I simply lean the bike somewhere it won't cause any inconvenience to anyone, like near a tree or in the shade from the sun. Then, I wait there until further instructions. I look through the mobile a bit, Facebook,instgram etc. while I wait to pass the time.
How are your working conditions in your job?
Sometimes, I have to buy water to drink. Otherwise, I drink water in the hotel. We don't ask customers for water when we deliver their orders. In some hotels, they provide water, but not all places offer this service. So, we drink water wherever it's available. If we feel thirsty and there's no water provided, then we buy a small bottle to drink.
Don’t you carry a bottle?
I do carry. That gets over. For how long will it be there?
Don’t the restaurants provide you with water?
The ones who want to give will give it willingly. Some people may ignore the request even after being told, and then we understand that they don't intend to give. So, I can’t keep asking in such situations.
Traffic, delivery and penalty
Sometimes, Dhiraj faces challenging situations with traffic police, which can result in him having to pay fines for driving on the wrong side of a one-way road or jumping signals in traffic. These actions are often prompted by the need to deliver ‘x’ number of orders within a given time slot to earn his daily incentives. However, he encounters other obstacles as well, such as delays caused by restaurants taking time to pack the food or customers not answering their phones while attempting the delivery.
The additional time spent by the delivery executive to locate the customer's address and make the delivery comes at the expense of potential new orders. Moreover, technical issues with the app can add to their struggles and may even result in financial costs. For instance, Dhiraj once had to collect orders from two restaurants and deliver them to separate customers in one trip. However, when he arrived at the second restaurant, the order did not show up in the restaurant's dashboard for the second order, leaving him unable to proceed with the delivery and start the ride as the button was disabled in the app. Even reaching out to customer support for help proved futile, as they were unaware of the app bug.
These delays can be especially problematic when delivering time-sensitive items like ice cream, potentially leading to customers rejecting the order upon delivery or returning the item. Unfortunately, in such cases, the delivery executive may not be compensated for their efforts, as the entire amount, including the delivery fee, is refunded to the customer, affecting the earnings of the delivery executive.
A few weeks ago, I shared a post on Twitter discussing how instant grocery delivery is a significant benefit for double-income households, as it removes the need for extensive grocery planning and adds convenience to life. However, my post received considerable backlash. I acknowledge that part of the blame lies with my less-than-clear articulation. Upon reflection, I realized that there must be a balance between customer demands, platform requirements, and the needs of delivery executives to find the sweet spot that benefits everyone.
I began to question whether my desire to receive a hot paratha within 30 minutes is worth risking someone's life just because an app promises such quick service. It's essential for all of us to learn and reflect, and hearing Dhiraj's story has prompted me to contemplate even more deeply.
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