Women turn to food delivery jobs in pandemic-hit market

By Nguyen Nam   April 1, 2021 | 11:55 pm PT
Women turn to food delivery jobs in pandemic-hit market
A female driver delivers food to customer in urban Hanoi. Photo courtersy of Ahamove.
Many women who lost their jobs in the past 12 months to the Covid-19 pandemic have been turning to food delivery to earn a living.

Ngan Nguyen Thanh, 42, has been a food delivery person for almost a year since she lost her job at a HCMC restaurant in February 2020.

She waits with several other delivery people at the crossroads of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and Mac Dinh Chi near the numerous cafeterias and restaurants there for an order to pop up on her phone.

The petite woman says: "I applied to be a motorbike taxi driver, but people normally do not trust a woman driver. I did not get enough rides, and so switched to full-time food delivery.

"I think delivery is a safer job, and I actually earn better money than as a taxi driver."

Ngan is one of thousands of women who lost their jobs during the pandemic and have signed up with rideshare and food delivery companies.

Data from delivery company Ahamove shows that the number of new women drivers signing up for their platform has almost tripled in the last 12 months.

Vinh Ngo The, spokesperson for the company, said there have been cases in which customers specifically ask for a delivery man.

Hoang Nguyen Trung, founder of the food delivery app Loship, also sees an increase in women taking up delivery jobs, once considered a male preserve.

The cuts in working hours due to the pandemic have had a devastating effect on jobs and incomes in Asia, according to the International Labor Organization.

In Vietnam, 32.1 million people aged 15 and above were hit by job losses, reduced working hours and pay cuts, according to the General Statistics Office. Median incomes are also falling.

Before Covid-19 Vietnamese women had been just as likely to be jobless as men, but after a year of lockdowns and social distancing, the unemployment rate among women is 2.9 percent higher, according to medical journal Frontiers Public Health.

The gig economy has been around for a long time, and has only become bigger since the Covid outbreak as the traditional job market took a hit and people increasingly had to turn to part-time work.

Social distancing and work-from-home has meant demand for food delivery has skyrocketed in big cities.

In HCMC, it was up by 90 percent last year, according to market research company GComm. The number of new deliver men and women surged as a result.

In storming this traditional male bastion, women have to face several challenges, including being stereotyped as the "weaker" sex.

Doan Nguyen, who runs her own eatery, said: "Though I’m a woman myself, I believe men have advantages in this job, as women are usually bad at reading signs and finding routes.

"We cannot endure the harsh weather and heavy traffic as well as men because they are generally stronger."

However, Ngo Pham Huu, founder of Ahamove, said he has noticed that his company’s female partners perform better at handling difficult people, for example, in de-escalating situations when customers are ranting and avoiding negative feedback from shop owners.

Despite all the challenges, the trend of women taking up delivery jobs is likely to remain strong this year since the job market is still struggling to recover and many traditional jobs are unlikely to come back any time soon, said Sara Elder, senior economist with the ILO.

Elder says: "It could take years for those who have exited the labor force to return to full employment."

Thu Vo, 32, a food delivery driver, says: "The last year has forced me discover resilience I did not know I had.

"When my small business got hit by the first wave of Covid-19, I found myself broke and homeless. Shifting to gig work was my only choice and I am good with it for now."

She averages 20 deliveries a day between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

"Though the customer demand has been higher since the outbreak, the number of deliveries actually decreased a bit. It must be due to the increase in the number of new drivers".

Ngan Nguyen is always waiting on busy streets come sunshine or rain to get as many orders as possible.

"Delivery platforms usually give bonuses if you accomplish a certain number of deliveries, which is often much higher than average.

"That means you can earn a lot more especially when the weather is harsh because those are the rare occasions when drivers are likely to turn off their app."

While many women have turned to food delivery to supplement their income, few think of it as a full-time job. Thu says: "I do not at all feel ashamed doing this work unlike some other women, but it will drain you physically and will not get you anywhere."

Huong Mac, another driver, agrees with Thu: "As long as you’ve got a job and some income, there is still hope for things to turn around. If you are still young and motivated, you’d better opt for a better job as soon as possible."

In her 60s, she has been a Grab driver for almost two years. She does a dozen deliveries a day on average and seems to be one of the few people enjoying gig work.

"I actually enjoy the job. My sons tried to stop me but I refused to stay at home. I don’t need much except to be active and financially independent, and that’s exactly how I feel doing deliveries."

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