Hardworking couriers' new year hopes

Updated: 2016-01-18 07:57

By Yu Junjie and Liu Tong Xinhua News Agency(China Daily)

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Hardworking couriers' new year hopes

A courier rides his tricycle to deliver packages in Beijing on Nov 6, despite wind and snow in the Chinese capital. Yan Xiaoqing / China Daily


Delivery workers look forward to improved pay and more leisure time in the Year of the Monkey

Couriers Li Junfeng and Zhou Kang have a lot of hopes and resolutions for the upcoming Lunar New Year. Their aspirations reveal much about life at the sharp end of a booming express delivery industry that is increasingly essential to the Chinese economy. The smooth operation of the e-commerce sector that Chinese leaders see as a new growth driver depends on keeping the likes of Li and Zhou happy and willing to stick with their tough jobs.

Both experienced couriers coping with ever-heavier workloads on their Beijing beats, their wish list includes better pay, more-affordable housing and a little understanding from customers. They are looking for higher salaries in the Year of the Monkey, and Li has made a resolution to make it back to his hometown in Hubei province for the holidays and eventually to return there for good.

Li is 41. In this business full of 20-somethings, he is called "Old Li."

"I've worked in the delivery sector for more than five years, and the last two years have been for Amazon," he said, squatting to count documents and parcels on a cold winter day.

Li delivers anywhere from 70 to more than 100 items every day, starting at 7 am and working until 8 pm. He covers several residential communities scattered across 10 square km.

Zhou, also in his forties, says he is accustomed to the work, but still struggles during very busy periods such as new year. He will deliver more than 300 items every day from Feb 7 to 13.

Unlike many migrant workers, Zhou's wife and children are with him in Beijing. "My wife keeps a grocery store near where we live, so we can eat at home. But housing in Beijing is too expensive, and eventually we will go back to our hometown," he said.

Li also worries about pressure on his earnings. He used to be on a base salary of around 1,000 yuan ($154) per month, plus a piece rate, but Amazon only pays the piece rate now. He gets 2 yuan per parcel delivered, earning 5,000 yuan on average each month.

Online retailer JD.com pays more, but it only employs men under 35, he said.

This year, he is going to be more careful about locking up his delivery tricycle. He had one stolen last year, along with all its contents, in the few minutes it took him to walk up a flight of stairs to make a delivery.

"I had to pay the company 12,000 yuan in compensation," Li said. Although the insurance company covered the loss eventually, he has learnt his lesson.

"Since then, I have always remembered to lock up before delivering parcels."

Zhou worries more about picky customers. "One woman was not at home and I told her I could come back later, but she made me put the box outside her door, then filed a complaint when the goods went missing," he said. He insists on delivering face to face now.

Couriers have been more susceptible to complaints and punishment since December, when the State Post Bureau imposed fines of up to 50,000 yuan for mishandling deliveries.

Li's biggest wish for the new year is to go home and rest.

"I haven't been back to Hubei for years because I haven't been able to get a train ticket during the holiday travel rush," he said. "Even if I had managed to get one, I would only have had a few days at home before needing to come back for work. It was better for me to save the money."

Zhou's number one wish is a pay rise. "The courier business is very competitive, and the market winner will be the one that provides excellent customer service while also retaining experienced couriers," he said.

This year, Zhou might "try his luck" at getting better-paid work in East China's Zhejiang province, home to the moneyed online retailer Alibaba.

In 2014, Chinese courier companies delivered 14 billion packages, and 15.6 billion during the first 10 months of last year, a rise of 46 percent year on year, according to latest figures.