C oming back to Mayank. After a brief break, he kickstarted his motorbike and shared the live location with me. On broad roads and blind under-construction cuts, our car lost track of him. Roughly 15 minutes later, we found him again.
As our car overtook his motorcycle, I got a glimpse of his face. I could tell he was sleepy.
The motorbike was his bed, and trees were the roof.
When he realised the proximity of our car, he shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, straightened his back, opened his eyes wide, and determinedly looked at the road ahead.
The time was past 7 in the evening. Thirteen hours since he had logged in that day. His total earning for the day – so far – was a little above Rs 350.
Swiggy and Zomato do not have a uniform payment structure for all the riders. The bonuses and incentive points differ too.
Upto 10 per cent of delivery executives’ weekly earnings constitute fuel allowance.
These riders claim that while petrol prices have increased this year, the companies have reduced the fuel allowance.
“We used to get Rs 6 per km for deliveries upto six kilometres,” Mayank’s friend said while sharing how the fuel price hike, inflation and their employers’ policies have come as a triple whammy. “But they used the Covid-induced economic slowdown as an excuse. Now it is Rs 4 per km.”
In June 2020, the price of petrol in Noida was around Rs 80-81. By September 2021, it had gone up to Rs 98-99. The delivery executives say the fuel allowance should work in accordance with the hike in prices.
They showed me the discussion on the WhatsApp group of the delivery executives who work in Noida. Mayank had asked the group members to send audio messages detailing the challenges they face at work.
Long working hours, no minimum guarantee pay for hours logged in, an endless chase for incentives, and fuel price woes trumped the concerns.
Some delivery executives who had gathered outside Supertech’s Cape Town Park in Noida were worried how much they would earn at the end of the day. Our protagonist Mayank is aiming Rs 600 a day.
“Chhay sau maar kar hi ghar jaunga. Teen sau ka bonus aa jaega (I will head home only after I achieve my target of Rs 600. Then, I will become eligible for a Rs 300 bonus),” Mayank said.
How many more hours would it take?
“Not sure. Maybe another hour or two. Or three. I am hopeful because weekend ‘dinner peaks’ are more rewarding.”
It was past 8 pm, and his earning for the day was at Rs 408. If he got lucky and touched the Rs 600-mark, the bonus might be credited to his account. There are targets for weekly bonuses as high as Rs 1,000. However, those too come with caveats. The overall rating of the delivery executive shouldn’t be less than 4.6.
And then, there is the threat of penalties, which are so bad, they can cost them an entire day’s earnings.
Earlier in the day Mayank had said this: “Once I get the food packet, it is my responsibility to hand it over swiftly and safely to the customer. I have been doing this work for nearly four years now but not once have I been penalised.”
He continued, “You know, I believe, not all delivery boys are innocent. Several used to get the prepaid orders cancelled through a tried and tested method so that they could eat the food themselves. The penalty system was possibly brought in to hold these notorious riders to account. However, now the system has changed and many innocent riders are paying the price.”
Around 9 pm, outside another Noida housing complex, I met Randhir from Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi. He works as a part-time rider and pulls off 12-hour shifts every day. He gets a bonus of Rs 125 if he earns Rs 300 in a day.
Just two days before I met him, Randhir had been penalised Rs 560 for an order that was cancelled. He showed me a picture of the penalty slip.
“My bike had broken down and I had informed the customer care. Yet the next morning when I woke up, I saw a Rs 560 penalty on my Swiggy account. In the past month, I have been penalised twice,” Randhir said.
Even after working over 10 hours that day, he wasn’t able to make up for the loss he incurred due to the penalty. While narrating the story, Randhir was almost in tears.
A couple of days later, in order to check how the delivery executives were penalised, I placed an order on one of the apps. Over the phone, I requested the person bringing my food to pick one more item on the way. In the process, he got delayed and couldn’t deliver the food on time. Barely five minutes after he had handed over the food to me at my Delhi address, my phone rang. The executive humbly requested me – “Sir, rating de dijiyega. Mujh par Rs 100 ki penalty lag gai hai. Aap achchi rating de denge to reverse ho jayega. (Sir, I have been penalised Rs 100. If you give me a good rating, the penalty will get reversed).”
I did so.
However, asking for the ratings is a tricky affair. A young executive, who tried his hand at being a YouTuber and formerly worked as a network marketing guy in his hometown in Madhya Pradesh, narrated an interesting story.
“This one day, I had touched my target points. But my rating was below 4.6 and hence I thought I would request the next two customers to give me good ratings. In my next delivery, I reached the customer’s house a couple of minutes before the ETA. I called him. He took nearly 5 minutes to open the gate. I could hear some yelling inside the house. The customer was visibly upset,” he said.
“I requested him to give me a good rating. But I ended up pushing my luck too far.” The customer probably rated him poorly as he saw a drop in his rating soon after.
While cases of customers misbehaving with delivery executives – like the Bengaluru Zomato delivery boy who was assaulted by an Instagram influencer – often emerge, our protagonist Mayank insists a majority of the customers have been nice to him.
Other riders say that late-night deliveries on weekends in Delhi and Noida often end up being unpleasant experiences. “When the customers are drunk, many of them end up either shouting at us or not giving directions properly which kills our time and hampers performance.”
In Mayank’s case, there’s a much bigger worry than customers, and it’s extremely personal. His family owns a house in UP’s Ghaziabad. After marriage, he started to live with his wife in a rented apartment near his home. He was a yoga teacher until the beginning of 2020. He lost his job after the Covid-19 outbreak. His part-time job as delivery executive, which he had taken up on a friend’s insistence, became his primary source of income. But he must keep it a secret.
“Mere padosiyon ko kisi ko nahi pata main Swiggy mein kaam karta hoon (None of my neighbours know that I work with Swiggy),” Mayank said with an awkward smile on his face. He wakes up as early as five in the morning, gets ready and leaves for Noida, which is at a distance of more than 20 km from his home. After reaching work, Mayank wears the Swiggy t-shirt and puts the regular t-shirt in his bag. At the end of the day, the Swiggy t-shirt goes back in the bag and and the regular one comes out. He does this everyday so that people in his neighbourhood do not know he works as a ‘delivery boy’.
“Ghar wale to sammaan karte hain. Apne log to apne hote hain par dusre log nichi nazar se dekhne lagte hai iss liye chhupana padta hai (The family respects what I do. It is the society which looks down upon this work. That’s what forces me to hide it),” Mayank, who is a double graduate and holds a postgraduate certificate in yoga, rues.