foodpanda Strike: Organising in Network and a Movement in Progress












foodpanda Strike: Organising in Network and a Movement in Progress

A Speech in the ‘Roundtable Online: the Working Conditions of Platform Workers’ on March 26, 2022


MAK Tak Ching, Riders’ Rights Concern Group

March 26, 2022


The movement

As my colleagues shared, food platform companies decline to recognise any employment relations with delivery couriers, nor assume responsibilities of labour protection. Moreover, we also have explored ways to organise the couriers. We strive to defend the labour rights of couriers. From the perspective of labour movement, we can understand why the Riders’ Rights Concern Group has strived hard to defend workers’ rights and the possible development of the movement.

Let us review the biggest resistance power in the industry first. Why resistance? Because it is the most powerful way to make impacts: to improve working conditions immediately, to push the business to improve the system for labour protection at the industry level or enterprise level, to raise public awareness about the labour conditions, to pressure the government for policy changes.



Let us start from the issue of ethnicity.

In the foodpanda strike, those who showed up in the media and those who served as the spokesmen were mainly South Asian couriers. They are ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. In all the strikes in this industry, they always come to the forefront. They enjoy less job opportunities due to language barriers and discriminations. Thus, it is more popular for the ethnic minority people to serve as full-time couriers because the job can support the livings of themselves and their families. They react severely when facing exploitation. They resist and protest the exploitations. It is true that South Asian couriers are more militant and powerful. They earn more so they care much more about their jobs which affect their lives directly. Therefore, they are the most active in defending their rights.

During the foodpanda strike in November last year, Chinese couriers were puzzled by the National Security Law. They dared not come out to the street, but ethnic minority couriers, on the contrary, did not care much about the law. The way Chinese couriers supported the strike was to stop working and stay home (in Cantonese, ‘tong-ping 躺平’), and the ethnic minority couriers came out to protest, speak and stop the business of the foodpanda warehouses in different districts.


Vehicle types

Couriers are divided into walkers (on foot), cyclists (by bicycle) and riders (by motorcycle). Riders tend to be full-timers while walkers tend to be part-timers. The part-timers do delivery just for extra income, so they do not care so much about this job and the working condition. But full-timers care very much.

Riders also take most orders and earn most, then followed by cyclists. It is difficult for the platform companies to find replacements, so they have more power to bargain.


Resistance actors

As we mentioned above, ethnicity × vehicle = the most militant workers in the sector, i.e., South Asian riders. They spoke in the media and bargained with the platform companies.

Food delivery itself is favourable to collective actions. Platform companies do not recognise the employment relationship. So the couriers reject to work when they are unsatisfied with the job conditions. They are not worried by being fired because they are not ‘employed’. ‘Once I perform well in ordinary time, the company has no reason to terminate my account.’ In fact, strike is not strange to us. It happens sometimes around the world, with the latest one being in Pakistan.[1] The demands of the couriers and their actions are known to the public.


Behind the strike

The foodpanda strike is described as a strike in the ‘post-trade union age’ and ‘without a big organised platform (in Cantonese, mou daai-toi 大台)’.[2] The strike, however, did not come from nothing. It had its historical succession and backup of an ‘organised platform’.

The foodpanda strike in last November was not the first strike of foodpanda couriers. The earlier one came out in 2020. Moreover, Deliveroo couriers also staged a strike in 2020. Small industrial actions did happen before too. Are the strikes interrelated? Seemingly, ‘No.’ There was nothing in common regarding the networks for mobilisation and the representatives of the strikes. But each strike had been popular to couriers in the industry. They had reference for their strikes. The striking couriers shared that they had learned a lot from the previous strikes.

In the foodpanda strike, some leaders said, ‘The Deliveroo strike was too loose and unprepared. The strike leaders even had potato chips with the management and the pictures had been released out. There was no concluded agreement between the strike leaders and the management. The strike leaders were under severe criticism. This time, we do differently, so we can have achieved something.’ In a board sense, all strikes or industrial actions have their succession.


 ‘Organised platform’ in network

One issue I would like to share here is the ‘organised platform’ (in Cantonese, daai-toi 大台). The Catering and Hotel Industries Employees General Union, an affiliate of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), did join in the strikes of couriers every time, although they could not recruit a considerable number of couriers as trade union members. But the trade union did in most cases gain the trust of the couriers and served as a part of the couriers’ negotiation team. It happened too in the foodpanda strike. When reviewing the strike, the couriers affirm again that one of the key factors to success in the strike is the participation of trade union and labour groups. The Catering Union shared with the couriers the strike strategies, and the Riders’ Rights Concern Group helped serve as the secretariat. We did facilitate the formation of the workers’ negotiation team. The formula, workers’ representatives × trade union × Concern Group = an organised platform. This fact should be acknowledged. The only thing is that this ‘platform’ is not a platform with control power, but rather a platform in network.

Another observation is that there are different kinds of ‘platforms’ in various districts. They are all parts of the whole resistance power. In the past, they organised various kinds of small strikes and boycotted collectively against unkind restaurants. The stories are amazing, but we cannot share so many stories here.


The movement in progress

In the foodpanda strike, the company promised to honour the 15 demands of the couriers, but they have not implemented the map system which greatly affects the pay and working hours. The Riders’ Rights Concern Group is still following this issue. Recently, in reply to the request of some couriers, we organised a petition campaign to demand for ‘No Door-to-Door Delivery’. It imposed pressure on the company and accumulated the resistance power of the movement.

Some couriers asked us, ‘When will we organise strikes again?’ We reply usually, ‘Not yet known.’ Movement needs to accumulate power so strike could be materialised.

Yes, we are organising movement, but the company will strike back. The company has organised an ambassador system which could turn couriers to be speakers of the company eventually. It is a big challenge to us.

A study shows that half of the couriers wish to join a trade union. As we know, however, the couriers wish trade union to serve as their backup, but they do not think of actually organising a trade union. We have asked the representatives of the couriers about the fact if they wish to organise a trade union. They reply, ‘No.’ They are worried by the troubles and afraid of losing the freedom in mobilising flexibly. A probable and feasible option is to organise a platform in network. Moreover, under the existing harsh suppression against trade unions, it is questionable if the couriers should organise a trade union today.


[1] The foodpanda couriers in Karachi, Pakistan staged a strike on March 11th, 2022. This article was originally
written around that date.

[2] In Hong Kong, without a big organised platformis commonly used to characterise a social or political
movement that is leaderless and decentralised.