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‘Like Slaves’: Lebanon’s Delivery Riders Struggle as Crisis Bites

‘Like Slaves’: Lebanon’s Delivery Riders Struggle as Crisis Bites

Saturday, 23 October, 2021 - 05:15
People walk past empty restaurants in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Nov. 20, 2012. Reuters file photo

His motorbike's tank almost empty, Ahmad had barely enough fuel to make one more delivery and get home for the night. When the 24-year-old Syrian's phone pinged with a food order in a distant suburb of the Lebanese capital Beirut, his heart sank.


Ahmad could ill afford to lose the work he picked up through local delivery app Toters - a precarious lifeline as Lebanon's economic meltdown destroys thousands of jobs and plunges three-quarters of the population into poverty.


"If I don't work, I don't eat," said Ahmad, who like other workers asked to be identified only by his first name, Reuters reported.


Freelance delivery work from app-based platforms has boomed worldwide as COVID-19 lockdowns kept people at home, prompting demands for better pay and conditions from workers around the world, from New York and Amsterdam to Johannesburg.


In Lebanon, eight riders for leading delivery apps Toters and India's Zomato Ltd told Reuters they were struggling to make ends meet with the additional strains of fuel rationing, petrol queues, power cuts, and price hikes.


Although gig work is promoted as flexible, the riders said they found their jobs stressful and exploitative as they lack the protections of formal employment.


Lebanon's labor minister did not respond to an interview request and Zomato declined to comment.


Toters co-founder and chief operating officer Nael Halwani defended the company's model, saying it allowed "shoppers" to decline orders as they wished.


But Ahmad said his managers at Toters refused to reassign his late-night order some 10 km (6 miles) outside the capital.


After siphoning gasoline from his friend's motorbike to make the delivery, a power cut left Ahmad stuck in the apartment building's lift for 30 minutes before he could finally head home.


"Remember what it was like in the past when everyone had slaves? That's what this job is like," he said.


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