COVID meant solid jobs for Yangon delivery riders. Now the internet block has them pleading for work.

Ko Phyo Lay, at left, and Nyi Nyi Aung, at right, are among out-of-work delivery riders looking to commission any work they can find. Photos: Courtesy
Ko Phyo Lay, at left, and Nyi Nyi Aung, at right, are among out-of-work delivery riders looking to commission any work they can find. Photos: Courtesy

Last year, when COVID-19 hit Myanmar, Nyi Nyi Aung left his sales job after working from home left him without enough earnings to get by. All the restaurants and bars had been closed, so the only way he could think of to earn enough to feed his family was to join a food delivery service.

He wasn’t alone. Foodpanda, Yangon Door2Door, GrabFood and others were already becoming popular prior to the pandemic, but the outbreak swelled the ranks of drivers as the services hired thousands of young people, especially in Yangon.

But when the junta cut mobile phone data, those services were crippled and now most of those drivers are out of work, leading some to beg for work online. One of those is Nyi Nyi Aung, who appealed on social media for anyone in Yangon’s Ahlone, Kyimyindaing or Sanchaung areas to contact him directly for delivery – and pay whatever they think is fair.

“We are struggling every day to eat. I have to apologize to my landlord for not being able to pay the rent as well,” Nyi Nyi told Coconuts, saying he’s been out of work for two-and-a-half months. “So, like my other colleagues, I decided to post my difficulty on social media and see if it helps.”

He’s one of thousands across Myanmar who lost their livelihoods with their cellular data, which the junta cut along with broadband wireless services, ostensibly to curtail protester coordination – and make it more difficult to document the violence against them.

“Many of us have been unemployed since mid-February because we cannot work if there’s no internet,” Foodpanda rider Ko Phyo Lay, who is also looking for work, told Coconuts.

He said some riders congregate around WiFi signals in hope of catching jobs.

“I waited the whole day at the City Mall St. John the other day, where we can use WiFi. I only got two orders,” he said with a sigh.

Calls to Foodpanda’s offices went unanswered Thursday.

Before the internet was cut, he said they were earning between MMK80,000 and 150,000 (US$50-$100) a week, but now could not take care of sick family members.

“I have not been able to earn any money since the mobile internet was cut off,” he said. I have to support my family and it is very difficult for me right now. My daughter is only 4-months-old and I can no longer buy supplements for her,” said Thet Naung Myint, another driver to post his contact info in hope of work.

Moreover, they were sometimes stopped by security forces, and some of them were beaten,  taken away orders on their way. There have been many reports of the police forces taking orders and money from food delivery riders in Yangon and security forces reportedly looted food and 500,000 kyats from a foodpanda rider near Yangon’s Hledan Centre last week.

“We have to detour sometime in order to avoid them. Now we also have to ask our customers to see if the area is safe before we go to them,” Phyo said.

In better times: Kentucky Fried Chaos hits locked-down Yangon (Photos)

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