Your salary is thrice your future spouse’s, but she still sees you as an insecure person unfit for marriage.
Recently, a series of QQ chat screenshots went viral in China. The girl in the chat, despite earning a unsatisfactory small sum of 4,000 RMB per month as an office staff, displayed a strong despise and disdain towards her boyfriend, who earns a monthly salary of 15,000 RMB as a deliveryman.
The girl in question has been having a hard time dealing with this relationship. She finds it hard for her family to accept a boyfriend, let alone a fiancée, who works as a delivery man. Despite her boyfriend’s high income, the job itself carried a general sense of insecurity for her. Not only was it devoid of a respectable social status, but also of any form of guarantees such as employee social security or health care coverage. To mitigate the tension and provide comfort to his upset girlfriend, the young man came up with a solution that unfortunately further exacerbated the situation: Save up money and start their own business.
While many netizens referred to the girl as a gold-digger or someone who has little respect for the hard work that her boyfriend is doing to keep up the relationship, the dilemma that the couple is faced with is a common one encountered by many in China. Despite having a relatively high income, Chinese working class find themselves not making their ends meet and dissatisfied in their social and security needs.
Many delivery men work in similar ways as Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts: They are working with the platforms as contractors. The contractor position leaves the platform more rooms to leverage on their compensations and their works. Furthermore, unlike regular employment contracts, platforms do not need to pay for health care or benefits for the ‘de-facto employed’ contractors. For those working in such conditions, such as DiDi drivers and Meituan delivery riders, they do not enjoy the benefits of subsidized health care or employment seniority. Their work can be terminated without substantial compensations at any time.
It is true, that a delivery man earning 15,000 RMB per month has more disposable income than an office staff who earns merely 4,000 RMB per month. Yet the man is taking a relatively huge risk in taking on the job. In the case of facing an accident during a course of delivery or getting sick, he has but only himself to seek for help. Not only will he not receive any forms of payment, but will also suffer huge financial losses in medical treatments in the hospital should he find himself in such a situation.
It is hard to compare the two rather extreme cases: Neither the 15,000 RMB delivery man nor the 4,000 office clerk has a really promising chance of surviving in first-tier Chinese cities. Yet the struggle of Chinese labor is showing a potential danger for the future economy. While the hard-working service providers contributed significantly to the economic growth in the country by taking up jobs that have a high demand for labor work and high productivity, the social benefit system is not offering them a safety net that they can rely on during emergencies. These individuals, despite having contributed a massive portion to China’s economic growth, receive very little benefits other than their incomes. Furthermore, these problems are not only issues that these legally defined contractors face, but also issues that many migrant workers have to face from time to time. Despite having an official employee status, the benefits, social cares, and social securities are not usually honored by their employers who struggle with vicious global competitions.
China has lowered labor standards compared to most developed countries. Not only do Chinese workers get paid less, they also face issues in receiving proper treatments in labour disputes and workplace safety training, making them extremely vulnerable to workplace accidents. Yet for their employers, a voluntary increase of labor treatments will directly increase the budget costs of these firms, which may eventually drive them towards bankruptcy.
While China may benefit from lower labour costs and standards in the past 40 years, the future of exploiting labour productivities may not be a perfect model for ensuring its economic developments. Chinese labor workers face increasingly high costs of living will eventually demand more from their employers. It is very questionable that the exploiting model can sustain in the long run. Perhaps active labors may accept the current working conditions right now, but future active labor workers will certainly ask for more. As the country faces a declining birth rate and fewer young workers entering the labour force, future government economists will need to find a balance to keep the economy competitive and robust for better labour force treatments.
However, the other issue that young workers now face is the lack of social acceptance. Over the course of economic reform, the Chinese society seems to be showing a declining respect towards blue-collar workers and having blind admirations towards white-collar office staffs, despite having lower income and, realistically, not-so-promising job prospects. Different from the country’s socialist economy era, blue-collar labours are not favored in engaging into relationships. The example is evident in the chat script. The girl shows a condescending attitude towards her boyfriend. Compared with potentially dangerous working conditions and lack of social security, the diminishing social acceptance and future career prospects might be more concerning.
The economy and the society may be destabilized by it. Perhaps in the near future, firms and service providers will find it difficult to recruit staffs to conduct logistic deliveries, food deliveries, or ride-sharing businesses. Yet for trending businesses in China nowadays, such as Alibaba, Meituan, and Didi, the existence of these labour workers are crucial for the growth not only for companies, but also for the vast amount of users who are depending on these services.
Under the service providers in the west, the Asian counterparts usually do not have the privilege of receiving tips as a compliment for good services, nor do they receive enough respect, and social and economic treatments. For the future of the Chinese economy, it is an imminent issue that needs to be addressed quickly, and effectively.