How was the foodpanda Strike Organised? Part 1: Introduction and Description












Riders’ Rider Concern Group



Striking couriers protested and gave interviews at Kwun Tong pandamart on November 13th. Source: Telegram group.


In November 2021, foodpanda’s delivery workers in Hong Kong (almost none of them were unionised) launched a city-wide strike for about two days, which then forced the company’s Hong Kong office to negotiate with the worker representatives and ultimately agree to provide solutions regarding workers’ 15 demands. The action and subsequent negotiation gained wide local media and public attention in Hong Kong, seemingly breaking the long silence of its labour movement, especially amid the recent political and social changes. However, despite a few news articles, sporadic support from foreign unions and informal communication between activists, the strike remains hardly known outside Hong Kong.

This article is intended to fill this gap by introducing to the international community the critical issues about the strike’s organisation and mobilisation. As Woodcock and Cant (2022: 14) have pointed out,

In different national contexts platform worker struggles have taken different forms and involved different dynamics. This provides the opportunity to compare and contrast the different tactics being used in order to better understand which—or indeed which combinations—are proving successful in practice.

We thus hope that labour activists across the globe could get a rough picture of and some food for thought from the struggles in Hong Kong, and make more endeavours to advance transnational solidarity, share different strategies, and coordinate for actions.

This article contains four parts, with each part dealing with one question: (1) What was the whole story of the strike, and what came afterwards?[1] (2) How was the strike mobilised and organised? (3) What special topics do we need to pay attention to regarding the mobilisation process? (4) What can we learn from the strike, and how can we go a step further in building Hong Kong delivery workers’ power in the long run?

This article’s information mainly comes from the following two channels. First, as the Riders’ Rights Concern Group (under the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee) assisted in the strike’s mobilisation and negotiation, the authors are able to gain first-hand knowledge and experience through observation and participation. Meanwhile, we have interviewed a few ‘leaders’ and active participants in the strike to learn more about the mobilisation process. However, the picture is still far from comprehensive or clear. More inquiries should be made to unravel the dynamics under this seemingly surprising movement.


The strike

foodpanda couriers have been suffering from a number of problems for years. Among them, the most pressing issues include the decreasing pay, unfair deactivation and dismissal (so-called ‘suspension and termination’), stringent control and discipline, a bad map system that under-calculates delivery distance, ineffective support from and communication with the company, etc. There had been sporadic strikes and petitions at the office of very small scales since late 2020, but the company hardly made any change. What deepened workers’ grievances in 2021 was a continual drop of pay in multiple forms. Since around June, the base rate per order kept dropping almost every week. From June to November, the average base pay per order for riders decreased from 48.5 HKD to 42.6 HKD (10.1%); for walkers it decreased from 38.3 HKD to 33.7 HKD (12.2%) (Riders’ Rights Concern Group 2021). Meanwhile, total ‘peak hour bonus’ also saw a continual decline from September, and the service fees for ‘stacked orders’ also began to be deducted for 20%.[2] Due to the pay cut and other long-existing issues, couriers’ anger has reached boiling point in November.

The strike was initiated in a WhatsApp group created for the actions. The news about a strike under plan rapidly went viral in other couriers’ groups based in WhatsApp, Telegram and Facebook. Riders, cyclists, walkers and drivers working in different areas disseminated the information and encouraged people to join the strike either online or face-to-face while working, sometimes based on existing networks. Some made videos to propagate the action, some printed and distributed posters, others offered suggestions on strike strategies online. A few workers actively contacted local media, inviting them to report.

According to the plan, on the night of November 13th and the full day of 14th, a considerable proportion of foodpanda couriers, including both Han Chinese and so called ‘South Asian’ ethnic minorities, stopped working, either not showing up for the selected shifts or going online but delaying and rejecting orders. In addition, in about 12 of the ‘zones’ where foodpanda operates, workers gathered and protested at ‘pandamarts’ (the warehouses for foodpanda’s own grocery delivery business) or large shopping malls, holding banners and shouting slogans, attracting considerable media coverage and public attention. In some zones there were informal pickets. Although the exact number of people participating in the strike is hard to estimate,[3] the unity and power was enough to force foodpanda to close all the pandamarts in Hong Kong for at least two days, and lots of restaurants temporarily stopped their delivery service on the platform.

These actions and impacts quickly pressured foodpanda Hong Kong into negotiating with the striking workers. Negotiation meetings were held at the company’s office on November 16th and 18th, with each meeting costing more than seven hours. On 16th, several dozens of workers gathered outside the building, drawing attention not only from the press but also the police. During the negotiation, the workers’ negotiation team of eight people raised 15 demands, based on couriers’ opinions expressed in group chats and a Google doc open for editing. The demands focussed on issues related to pay, control and discipline, dismissal and deactivation, distance calculation, waiting time, support and communication, etc.

The result was not all satisfying but still meaningful. The company refused to agree to the first and most important demand concerning the pay but offered a new regular bonus scheme with a freeze on current base pay (which probably would otherwise continue to drop) instead, which was accepted after slight revision by the negotiation team. Regarding the other 14 demands, the company promised to make changes according to the demands or improve in certain ways.

Workers have different views on the strike’s outcome. As the most critical demand was not fulfilled and a few new problems emerged partly as the strike’s unexpected side effects, some couriers were disappointed. Others felt that the overall working condition improved a little, with slightly higher incomes and better experience in using the platform’s app. Furthermore, the company failed to fully and successfully implement all the solutions it offered, especially concerning the map, waiting time, and courier support. A follow-up meeting was thus held between the management and the strikes’ negotiation team on December 20th, but the company gave few concrete answers to workers’ questions.

Now the strike’s momentum has largely gone, and workers seem to be working normally as before. It still remains to be seen how the workers will continue to hold the company accountable for the demands, and how they will advance the long-term fight for their rights against the unregulated platform economy. As we will point out later, the organising and mobilising process and efforts in the strike are highly inspirational and might have sown seeds in the courier community for future struggles.


Mobilisation and organisation

On the surface, it seemed that the workers were mainly mobilised through online groups based in instant messaging apps and social media. In fact, couriers’ self-organising offline, some based on existing networks established long before, also played a crucial role. Also, it is hard to draw a line separating ‘online’ and ‘offline’ mobilisation. The whole process involved constant interactions and combinations of both, with a surprising diversity of the specific channels and forms.


Mobilising online

On or slightly before November 9th, 2021, a WhatsApp group mainly composed of Pakistani and Indian delivery workers was made by Waqas, a Pakistani worker, to mobilise for a strike. As the inviting link and relevant information circulated in a snowball manner, more and more foodpanda workers joined the group. A Telegram group was created shortly after to accommodate more people, which then functioned as the primary virtual mobilisation site. In one or two days, the number of members in this group (hereafter referred to as the ‘main group’) reached about 1,500, including both South Asian and Han Chinese workers working in different delivery zones.

All the strike-related groups, as well as other existing couriers’ groups, were extremely active during the few days before the strike. Couriers shared their daily grievances, raised their demands, and gave suggestions for effective strategies. These conversations helped build solidarity and unity among workers of different types (rider, walker, cyclist, driver), across different zones and ethnicities, directing all their anger towards the company.

The initiator of the strike, Waqas, is good at using posters, audio messages, and videos to mobilise workers to fight collectively against the company. Posters made by him with simple sentences complaining about the working condition or announcing action plans were often forwarded repeatedly. When he made videos in Urdu and English, many workers would comment and forward, showing their support. Some would voluntarily translate them into Chinese/Cantonese. Through his strong personal initiative and devotion, he obtained a level of popularity among and recognition by the workers, which further enabled him to mobilise more people for actions. But the influencing power of Waqas (and any other ‘leaders’) should not be exaggerated. People could disagree with him, or simply ignore some of his messages calling for actions, since there was no formal hierarchical structure among all the group members.

One interesting point to note is that workers tried hard to foster effective discussion, make collective decision, and build consensus among so many people despite the apparent difficulties. A few workers volunteered to translate between Chinese, English and Urdu/Hindi. Important information was ‘pinned’ in the groups (a Telegram function) so that everyone can see them easily. Some Internet-based tools were also successfully utilised. For instance, the basic tactics of the strike (‘no pickup’ and demonstrating at pandamarts) were decided via a poll in the ‘main group’, and the draft demand list was formed through repeated discussions in the ‘main group’ and a shared Google Doc where everyone can comment and add their opinions.


A poster about the strike made by Waqas. Source: Telegram group.


These online mobilisation and communication processes appeared to be highly individualised and ‘decentralised’, as Mujahid (alias), a young Pakistani worker described. According to Mujahid, his experience in the 2019-2020 Anti-Extradition Movement had a great impact on the way he involved in this ‘decentralised’ strike, which was perhaps also the case for many young ethnic Chinese workers. In the Telegram groups, everyone (except Waqas, perhaps) remained anonymous, had an equal chance to express their views and took their own actions. Although there were plans for collective actions together, everyone still had a ‘free choice’ to decide whether and how they would join. They can even choose different ways to stop working. Taking shifts but not going online, going online but declining orders, accepting orders but not delivering, etc. Workers, even the ‘leaders’, could hardly expect that on March 13th there would be simultaneous gatherings in so many zones across Hong Kong and that the same posters circulating online would appear on riders’ motorcycles everywhere. People only knew this when they saw the exciting photos and videos taken by striking workers and posted in the group. Most people in the ‘main group’ appeared to join the movement as an individual.

However, there were certainly some people who played a bigger role than others even in this seemingly ‘decentralised’ online mobilisation. KK (alias), a Chinese cyclist, probably with the inspiration and assistance from a union staff, created a Telegram group for ‘leaders’ and ‘representatives’ (hereafter referred to as ‘leader group’) working in different zones to discuss tactics and coordinate actions. This was not an easy task, since neither had KK known any ‘leaders’ personally, nor had the ‘leaders’ known one another. KK could only ask about such figures in the ‘main group’ or through the people he knew. In this way, around 10 Chinese or South Asian ‘leaders’ of a few zones joined that ‘leader group’. The ‘leaders’ exchanged the estimated size of the strike in their zones, and it was found that Kwun Tong was likely to be where the action would be the most eye-catching. It was this piece of information that prompted KK to invite several local mainstream media to report in Kwun Tong on March 13th. After the company offered to negotiate, the negotiation representatives also mainly came from the ‘leader group’, which then essentially became the group for the ‘negotiation team’.

To sum up, regarding the online part of the mobilising, the ‘main group’ functioned as a platform where a great number of atomised workers could find common grounds and build a unity for the movement, while the ‘leader group’ was an effective means for the core strikers to discuss and plan what to do. Therefore, perhaps the most significant role of online mobilisation lies in creating a cross-zone stage for otherwise individualised and atomised workers to involve in the movement.


Organising offline

If one observes this strike only from those online groups, they will probably believe that it was indeed a ‘decentralised’ movement mobilised through the Internet. However, this was only a (small) part of the picture. For the strike and demonstrations to happen successfully with such a size, offline, face-to-face networking and organising, mainly among workers within a certain zone, perhaps played a more crucial role. And riders’ networks existed before the strike served as the key basis for it.

As mentioned earlier, in many zones there were certain riders who emerged as ‘leaders’ in the strike. They made considerable efforts in organising or at least encouraging workers in their zones to support the movement. But the particular organising methods and the nature of connections between workers varied across zones.

In Kowloon Bay, a Pakistani rider nicknamed Kam-lung persuaded workers to support the strike mainly through talking face-to-face with workers and handing out posters at key working sites (e.g., shopping malls where couriers often wait for orders). He also created a Telegram group specifically for this zone and tried to add as many people as possible into it. Whenever there was a need to call for a gathering, he messaged everyone in this group privately. According to Kam-lung, except for a close group of a few relatives who are also riders, he was not aware of any existing networks among ethnic minority riders there. Many couriers could recognise one another by face, but their relationships had been no more than greetings and short conversations on the street. He thinks that it was a special type of psychological bonding among South Asian workers as a minority group that made them willing to beimin (俾面, a Cantonese word, literally translated as ‘to give face’, meaning to do something for somebody as a gesture of respect)[4] and thus join the movement. Thanks to this, he was able to mobilise around 30-50 of South Asian riders to demonstrate outside Kowloon Bay pandamart in two consecutive evenings although he had not enjoyed any special reputation or status within the zone prior to the strike.

In Kwun Tong, a neighbouring area of Kowloon Bay, the situation was rather different. Before the strike, both Chinese and ethnic minority couriers already had networks and WhatsApp groups respectively. Among the South Asian minorities, Nadim (a Pakistani rider) was the group admin. With a reputation for helping others solve their problems, he had been well-known in the community and had connections to certain numbers of people. Among the Chinese couriers, the network seemed even stronger. They had a WhatsApp group where people were always discussing their daily working conditions, and some riders would regularly have meal gatherings and do leisure activities like sports together. They would also offer help to each other whenever someone encountered emergency on the roads. Tat (nickname of a Chinese rider) was one of the most active members in this network. After they heard via the Internet that someone was calling for a strike, both Tat and Nadim started to encourage workers of their own ethnicity to join. Without knowing about each other, they separately utilised their own networks and personal influence (or some form of ‘leadership’) to invite couriers for a discussion about the strike plans near Kwun Tong pandamart. Two groups of couriers, one Chinese and another South Asian, then accidentally met there. After that, Nadim and Tat were able to coordinate cross-ethnicity actions on top of their hard work to organise workers within their communities. It was these intra-ethnic networks and the collaboration between two communities that led to the magnificent protests in Kwun Tong, with the rare presence of both South Asian and Chinese couriers.[5]


Kwun Tong riders met on November 11th to prepare for the actions and distribute posters. Source: Telegram group.


In Kowloon City/San Po Kong, where the key organisers were full-time labour NGO staff from the Riders’ Rights Concern Group (who acted like ‘salts’ in the movement) instead of common couriers, the organising similarly depended on both existing networks and person-to-person persuasion. Partly thanks to the Concern Group’s efforts, there was a loose network among ethnic minority couriers (and some of them might have closer pre-existing relationships). Some weak links also existed among the Chinese cyclists there. Just like what Kam-lung did, the Concern Group spent about two or three half-days to talk to every worker they saw on the street, distributing flyers and encouraging them to participate. In doing this, they also paid special attention to utilising the loose networks mentioned above, which indeed played key role in the actions there.

The examples above suggest that in-person communication that happened physically at the working sites was indispensable, and that existing offline bonding or networks, no matter strong or weak, often provided the major basis for in-zone organising. What’s more, the type of connection and the level of solidarity established before differed between zones, and this in turn affect the form and capacity of mobilisation. Riders with stronger pre-strike ties mobilise themselves more easily and take actions in a more organised way. So, in Kowloon Bay and Kowloon City, riders had to rely more on ad hoc, face-to-face persuasion than in Kwun Tong, where it was easier to get support due to the stronger networks and mobilising capacity of the ‘leaders’. Also, the demonstration in Kwun Tong happened in a more ‘disciplined’ way.[6] But these are just preliminary observations because we still know little about the mobilising and organising processes in many other zones with workers’ gatherings.


Interaction between online and offline processes

Now it is time to return to the different role of offline and online communication. It seemed that instead of only working separately with different effects, they more often functioned together in a synthesised and interactive way in making successful mobilisation and organisation.

First, as shown by the above experience in three zones, while organising within certain zone depended heavily on physical meetings and discussions, riders in an offline network had often created online groups in instant messaging apps, which were also used to plan for actions. For instance, the protest in Kowloon City pandamart was initiated by a South Asian courier in the riders’ WhatsApp group and many appeared perhaps because they saw the messages there (though personal links might also played a role).

Second, as we have pointed out in the earlier section, it was online communication in the ‘main group’ and the ‘leader group’ that linked up the scattered offline organising efforts in different zones, and it was the information about the strike circulating online that prompted workers to start organising offline in the first place.

Therefore, online mobilising and offline organising interacted in a complementary and dialectical way. It was the constant interaction and combination of the two that led to the relatively large number of participants in the strike. They should not be viewed in a binary or separate manner.


[1] For overviews of the strike and relevant issues, see also Lausan Collective (2021); China Labour Bulletin (2021).

[2] ‘Stacked orders’ means double orders picked up in one time from the same vendor.

[3] foodpanda itself openly recognised that there were ‘about 200 couriers’ involved in the ‘demonstration’ on November 13th, but it is highly possible that the company intentionally downplayed the size of the strike. My own estimation is that the number of participants in the physical protests across 12 zones might be over 300, and those who refused to work in different ways might be over 10,000.

[4] For the meaning and use of beimin, see

[5] In other zones, the demonstrations outside pandamarts generally featured South Asian riders, with few Chinese workers present.

[6] Each rider organised by Tat had to confirm their attendance at the pandamart in advance. Thus, Tat was able to have a relatively precise estimation of the number of participants, which is hard to realise in other zones.