Chinese Delivery Driver Sets Himself on Fire to Protest Unpaid Wages

A driver working for an Alibaba-owned delivery service is in critical condition after setting himself on fire during a dispute over unpaid wages, Chinese media reports said.

Harrowing footage going viral on China's Twitter-like service Weibo showed a group of rescuers spraying fire extinguishers at the man—engulfed in flames—as he lay face down on a street in the city of Taizhou in east China's Jiangsu Province on Monday.

The video later showed him standing next to a police officer and refusing to be taken to hospital, saying: "Give me back my heard-earned money."

According to the news arm of Chinese internet company NetEase, the driver's daughter started a campaign to crowdfund his treatment. She identified him as 48-year-old Liu Jin, who works for on-demand food delivery platform Ele.me.

Liu ran orders for Ele.me's sub-service Fengniao Delivery. He is believed to have doused himself with gasoline and then set himself ablaze after failing to receive his wages, the report said.

Ele.me, which was acquired by Alibaba in 2018, did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

The NetEase report said Liu suffered burns on "80 percent of his body" and was receiving treatment at Taizhou People's Hospital. A police investigation is understood to be ongoing.

The crowdfunding campaign, started by his daughter on Shuidichou, asks for 500,000 renminbi ($77,170) in order to treat "severe third-degree burns" and "respiratory tract burns."

Liu has two daughters and is the family's only breadwinner, the campaign page said.

The online plea did not reveal further details about Liu's reported wage dispute with Fengniao, which is a crowdsourced logistics service employing some three million drivers.

The incident has once again thrust the poor employment conditions of gig economy workers into the spotlight. It comes just days after Ele.me found itself embroiled in another scandal over a delivery driver who collapsed dead while on a job in Beijing last month.

The 43-year-old, identified by his surname Han, had also run deliveries for Fengniao, but Ele.me offered his family 2,000 renminbi ($308) in compensation, saying it had no employment relationship with Han.

Reports later revealed that Han, like Monday's Liu, worked for Fengniao through a recruitment agency. Having not been officially employed by Fengniao, the platform was exempt from responsibility. The firm could therefore offer compensation on compassionate grounds.

Following an online backlash, Ele.me reversed its decision. On Friday, the company announced it would be offering Han's family, who are originally from Shanxi Province in north China, 600,000 renminbi ($92,604) for their loss.

Ele.me, which is headquartered in Shanghai, is China's second-biggest on-demand delivery platform, after Tencent-backed Meituan.

Food delivery drivers were praised as heroes in the first quarter of 2020, when residents in major Chinese cities relied heavily on their services to receive daily necessities during lockdown.

However, growing participation in the industry has revealed controversial labor practices, including long hours and low pay.

Ele.me Food Delivery Drivers Wait for Orders
File photo: Food delivery drivers working for logistics platform Ele.me. Fengniao Delivery