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Meituan to change delivery algorithm rules as China urges labour protection

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FILE PHOTO: A Meituan delivery worker wearing a face mask is seen on a street following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Shanghai
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BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese food delivery giant Meituan has published the rules showing how algorithms estimate the time it takes delivery workers to complete jobs and said it was adjusting them, after the government urged firms to improve working conditions.

Regulators have come down hard on big technology firms this year, criticising them for policies that exploit workers and infringe on consumer rights, and have drafted guidelines requiring food delivery platforms to guarantee minimum pay and rest periods.

Debate on how to regulate workers' rights in the digitised "gig economy" has been unfolding around the world, with trade unions saying management algorithms on international platforms are eroding gig workers' wages and rights.

Meituan published the rules on its official WeChat account on Friday and said it had invited its delivery workers, known as riders as most ride bicycles or motor-bikes, and outside experts to give feedback on how the algorithm could be improved.

The company also said it was planning to make allowances for delivery workers to take account of "abnormal conditions", including delays caused by food vendors, and also introducing a degree of flexibility by changing an estimated time "point" to a time "period".

Meituan and Ele.me had drawn criticism on social media for their treatment of delivery workers, most of whom are not covered by basic social and medical insurance.

Last year, the Renwu magazine published a report exposing the huge pressure and big risks food delivery riders face, when they rush to meet deadlines set by the companies' algorithms.

Meituan has been working with the government to provide riders with employment injury insurance and will introduce compulsory breaks.

(Reporting by Yingzhi Yang and Brenda Goh; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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