Food Delivery Platforms are Changing how Young Young People Work in Taiwan
 
Feb 08, 2020
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In the past, young people looking to moonlight or take a part-time job alongside their studies used to work in restaurants and fast food chains near their schools. But food delivery services have begun to offer an attractive alternative due to low entry thresholds and comparably good pay. Over the past two years alone, this rapidly growing sector has attracted around 50,000 people, whereas the traditional gastronomy sector faces severe, chronic manpower shortages. This trend would seem to indicate a paradigm shift in how the younger generation navigates their career options. Apparently, opportunities to climb career ladders are no longer the foremost consideration when choosing jobs.

Small eateries are ubiquitous in the vicinity of the Muzha MRT station in Taipei, and according to the wanted ads on shop entrances and windows, many of them are looking for part-time or student workers. Yet one rarely finds student-age waiters or other service personnel in these small restaurants. Restaurant owners lament that students lack interest in the food and beverage business, and if by chance a student does accept a server job, they often quit within a few days.

The gastronomy sector has long suffered from a chronic labor shortage. In a November 2019 survey, online job platform Taiwan.Jobs listed the food and beverage industry as the sector with the highest number of job openings, as well as a 7.14% year-on-year increase in vacancies. While students tended to turn to restaurants and fast food chains for part-time jobs in the past, they are now flocking to more lucrative job opportunities in the food delivery business.

Gastronomy Faces Chronic Manpower Shortages, Food Delivery Services Hugely Popular

Compared to the lackluster situation for gastronomic sector jobs, food delivery services are springing up everywhere, absorbing around 50,000 people within two years. Statistics by online job bank 104.com.tw show that the typical food delivery worker is 26 years old. Around 70 percent of food delivery workers work at their jobs full time and earn an average monthly salary of NT$42,000. This compares to an entry salary of less than NT$30,000 for university graduates, so it should not come as a surprise that young people deem delivery jobs one of their most lucrative options.

“When I was in college, students loved to work in fast food restaurants,” notes Mr. Shih, 38, who works as an assistant manager in a fast food chain. He speculates that Taiwan’s declining birth rate might have contributed to the fact that young people are increasingly unwilling to take temporary jobs. The fast food industry does not appeal to students anymore. “If you tell them that they can’t play with their mobile phones at work, they won’t show up the following day,” says Shih, relaying his own experience.

Shih concedes that students still make up the majority of restaurant personnel. However, the ratio of older people who are returning to the labor market and recent immigrants is constantly increasing. Shih himself has taken a delivery job where he works part-time after his full-time job “to earn some extra income.”

Generation Z Rejects Corporate Culture! Paradigm Shift in Definition of Work

Delivery jobs appeal to young people because they seem to offer much more freedom and flexibility than traditional restaurant work where one has to follow orders from supervisors and bow to corporate culture.

Hsin-yu, a 23-year-old woman who previously worked as a restaurant waitress and at a motorbike dealer, has been working as a delivery worker in Kaohsiung full time for more than a year. She puts in at least 72 hours per week. “Doing deliveries offers more flexibility; you can decide whether to work longer hours, and the pay is really worthwhile,” she asserts. Hsin-yu makes between NT$50,000 and NT$60,000 per month. While her competence was always being questioned at the motorbike dealer because of her being a woman, gender does not play a role in the delivery business, she explains.

Young people who express the desire to enjoy more freedom in how and when they work are no longer a minority. Weber Chung, a human resources officer at 104.com.tw, observes that the work ethics of the younger generation have changed. They are not ready to be ordered around. While outsiders assume that delivery workers are after the money, these young people actually pursue jobs that offer flexibility, autonomy and freedom.

Career Opportunities No Longer Top Consideration, Quick Money Comes First

Though delivery workers who decide themselves when and how long they work are not bound by organizational rules, they are deprived of career opportunities. Speaking his mind, Chung notes that, from a human resources standpoint, working in the delivery business cannot be deemed a good job. Not only does delivery work fail to contribute to an individual’s career development, it also affects national competitiveness since the state has invested considerable resources in the education of its citizens. Yet, given the fact that ordinary jobs do not pay well, it is only natural that young people are attracted to the fast-earning, higher-paying delivery jobs.

They find that the regular workplace not only fails to provide better conditions but also does not give them any hope. Mr. Shih, the fast food manager who moonlights as a delivery worker, is straightforward about the lack of prospects in the industry, noting that even if one reaches the level of senior supervisor, the monthly salary hardly reaches NT$100,000. “What’s the point of schmoozing with the boss and competing with colleagues? Nowadays the salaries are the same regardless of whether or not you have expertise,” remarks Shih.

Taiwan Labor and Social Policy Research Association Executive Director Chang Feng-yi says a look at Taiwan’s employment structure shows that in the past, low-skilled entry-level workers found employment in the manufacturing industry. While their wages were not high, they were assured stable development. However, today such jobs are increasingly taken over by foreign laborers. Workers who want to enter the service industry face a fragmented labor market that does not offer much job security or employee benefits. Neither can they expect to develop their careers in such positions, so they desert and head to the delivery business, observes Chang.

“Many people quit their original jobs to do deliveries,” says A-Chi. The 27-year-old makes up to NT$60,000 a month working two jobs eight to ten hours per day, making deliveries in Miaoli and serving customers at a pizzeria. He knows of many people who quit their jobs and now make NT$100,000 a month as delivery workers. But he also believes that such arrangements won’t work in the long term. “You will get the wrong attitude. Where will you find a job that pays NT$100,000 per month once there are no deliveries anymore,” asks A-Chi incredulously.

Does the Gig Economy Turn Young People Into ‘Modern Mine Workers’?

In exchange for quick money and freedom from workplace constraints, young people are ready to live with the high risk they face when delivering food by bike, scooter or car on demand, controlled by high-tech food app platforms. But how long can this trade-off be maintained?

Lately, delivery app platforms have repeatedly cut wages, triggering a backlash from delivery workers. Chang says high pay is usually only a tool to attract contractors in the startup phase of a platform. As soon as consumers have gotten into the habit of ordering home deliveries, platform operators begin to gradually slash salaries. In contrast to employees in a typical company, delivery workers in the gig economy do not have much bargaining power. They lack an institutionalized mechanism such as collective bargaining and organizations to fend for their rights. The recent strike at food delivery platform Foodpanda showed that “both sides are testing the other side’s limits,” notes Chang.

In a labor market with stagnant, low wages, many young people are ready to give up full-time positions in favor of high-paying, flexible delivery driver jobs. As money to spend takes priority, they are throwing long-term career considerations to the wind.

Hsu Yun-hsiang, associate professor at the Institute of Law and Government of National Central University, believes that the majority of delivery drivers is amid a career transition, as most young people still hope for a stable job. The problem is that it is anyone’s guess how long this transition period will last.

By Jo Wen Li