Delivery agents, LPG workers in TN battle summer's fury without respite

Food delivery agents work in blistering heat for modest income, LPG delivery personnel say they manage with occasional tips from clients
A gas delivery man washes the sweat from his face.
A gas delivery man washes the sweat from his face.(Photo | Ashwin Prasath, EPS)

CHENNAI: This summer, food delivery agents said they wish they could be anywhere other than on the streets, sweating under their helmets and perpetually thirsty. However, they have no such luck. It is important that they take orders from 11 am to 3 pm every day to claim their daily incentive. They usually get a small additional wage for deliveries during rain, but receive no bonuses in summer, they said.

42-year-old Ponraj (name changed) , a food delivery agent in Ambattur, said, “There are some big apartments like the one on Maduravoyal service road which do not allow our bikes enter their premises. We are forced to walk at least a kilometre to the blocks mentioned in the address under this sun. We have fought against these apartment policies several times, but in vain. They ask us to go on foot for the fear of the delivery agents causing accidents. The practice is discriminatory because they allow all other vehicles inside.”

Das (name changed), another food delivery agent, said they are allocated waiting spaces near kitchens in restaurants, adding to the summer heat. Some persons rue that they get as low as Rs 30 for covering a distance of about 10 km. M Subhash (38) from Kumarapalayam in Salem said there was a recent policy change where rejecting two orders results in reduced incentives during peak hours (8 am to 1 pm), further exacerbating financial strain. “With 12-hour shifts under the scorching sun, I struggle to meet a modest income target of Rs 35,000 a month. My only motivation is to support my younger sister, who is pursuing engineering at VIT, Vellore,” Subhash said.

There are instances when customers suddenly change delivery location, which is a few km away, say workers.
There are instances when customers suddenly change delivery location, which is a few km away, say workers.(Photo | Ashwin Prasath)

While the heat wave in Virudhunagar is intense this summer, 50-year-old R Rajamanickam said his firm has permitted delivery persons to reject one order per day. “While we toil hard under the blazing sun to meet the expenses of our family, there are instances when customers specify a location for delivery and later request us to deliver in another location, which is a few kilometres away. Some people don’t pay extra and some give us a meagre amount of Rs 5 and even Rs 1,” said Rajamanickam.

People handling LPG cylinders also shared the woes of food delivery agents in working in harsh summer.

In the midst of a scorching summer in Vellore, K Paramasivam (52) traverses the streets of Sathuvachari barefoot, tirelessly delivering gas cylinders to the surrounding area. He works from 9 am to 5 pm and carries a maximum of three cylinders on his cycle with each cylinder weighing around 30 kg. Bathed in sweat, Paramasivam remains undeterred, to ensure people can cook their next meal without any LPG shortage.

“The heat makes our work riskier. We get tired fast and also find our body odour rising. Our work requires strong determination. Every day, we are swimming upstream against the intense heat with unwavering resolve. Thanks to our customers, we are offered water or buttermilk during deliveries.”

P Murali (56), another gas delivery man, said, “During summer, I make sure to wear a cap and normal cotton dresses rather than the uniform. Despite such measures, we feel drained after a few hours of work. Since the onset of summer, I’ve found myself drinking water at least three times more than I do in the winter. Even the water we get from houses is warm during summer. With the small tips ranging from Rs 20-Rs 30 from some customers offer, we buy ourselves some refreshments to beat the heat. I often try to complete my deliveries by noon, take a break and resume work after 3 pm.”

Selvam I, a cooking gas delivery worker in Somarasampettai, said, “Touching cylinders exposed to heat is like touching hot metal rods. Therefore, some of us cover our hands with cloth while handling cylinders. But, most of the time, we have to ignore the heat from the cylinder ring and deliver it to the client’s doorstep or inside the house. We would get blisters on our palms. Over the days, our hands have got used to this. Some clients give us tips, considering our situation, but not all.”

R Sudalai Kumar, of Mettukadai in Erode, who delivers water cans, said, “I have been supplying water cans to households and business establishments for the past 13 years. Due to the intense heat this year, the demand for cans has increased. I used to distribute up to 220 cans every day before the summer season. It has now increased to 350 cans a day.”

(Inputs from Jose K Joseph, Praveena SA, Shakthivel K, P Srinivasan, Harini M, Sivaguru S, Nirupama Viswanathan)

(In this series, TNIE looks at the condition of workers toiling under the sun)

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