Liu Jin, a Meituan driver, set himself on fire on Monday after he was denied his weekly wages. He is currently in critical condition, with 80 percent of his body suffering third-degree burns.
The video of the incident, which is below, has gone viral.
The video shows several people nearby rush over to Mr. Jin as he set himself on fire atop his motorized bicycle to extinguish the flames. Chinese authorities have not officially confirmed that this was due to a labor dispute, but several sources report that Jin can be heard saying “I want my blood and sweat money back,” to the individuals that came to his aid.
He was taken to the hospital where he is recovering, according to one of his daughters. Jin is the sole breadwinner in his family. They are now raising funds for his treatment through a popular Chinese crowdfunding website.
Ele.me, which is the food delivery platform for Alibaba, said in a statement, “We are saddened by the tragic event. The situation is currently under investigation and we are unable to comment at this stage.” The company is owned by Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, who was reported missing earlier this month after criticizing the Chinese government, though many speculate that he could simply be lying low.
What’s Happening With Essential Workers in China?
Many have begun to raise the complaint that, although they were “appreciated” for doing the bulk of the work and delivering food during China’s pandemic shutdown, drivers are seeing lower and lower wages. Drivers were often cheered on as heroes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, where they played a pivotal role in delivering food to people on lockdown, but reported that their wages and working conditions had faltered during that time.
Mr. Liu was working for Ele.me, one of China’s biggest food service delivery platforms. He recently decided to quit and work for Meituan, another platform. As he was switching, Liu had a dispute over payment with someone in charge at Ele.me. After being denied wages, he set himself on fire in protest.
Last month, a 43-year-old Alibaba driver with the last name Han collapsed and died while delivering food. While his family was compensated by Ele.me, the original amount was CNY 2,000 ($309), but after public backlash, they increased that to CNY 600,000 ($92, 762).
With the pandemic hitting China, there are more people out of work and therefore available to become drivers. With an endless supply of drivers and increased demand for products, these companies are able to increase the workload for their drivers but decrease their pay, maximizing their own profitability. In some cases, blogging and documenting labor disputes has helped some workers receive better compensation.