Saleem is running 20 minutes late. He speeds up his bike as he has to deliver his order in 10 minutes. As he races against time, he gets hit by a speeding car from behind and is injured severely. Saleem recovers after a month-long treatment, though a permanent disability costs him his job.

Saleem is only an example of many who encounter similar fates in Kuwait while riding motorcycles to deliver food. A delivery boy on a bike on Kuwait streets is a common spectacle. The way they negotiate through the labyrinth of vehicles on Kuwait’s busy streets and thoroughfares is awe-inspiring. They ride fast and at times furiously to deliver the food ‘hot and spicy.’ But delivery boys are prone to accidents not only due to their rash driving or poor lane discipline but because other motorists tend to ignore the motorbikes on highways.

There are no specific statistics available on accidents involving food delivery boys in Kuwait. According to official statistics, there is a sharp rise in registered motorcycles in Kuwait from 6,373 in 2008 to 20,489 in 2017. Many restaurants and fast-food chains however, albeit discreetly, admit that the accident rates among delivery staff are high. Hospital sources confirm that frequency of accidents involving motorcycle riders remains high in Kuwait. They also said that at least one such case is reported to their casualty departments every week. Consequently, many big players are now providing cars to their delivery staff, phasing out bikes from service.

The advent of new food delivery services and apps has transformed the fast-food scene in Kuwait. Talabat has reinvented the way food is delivered in the Gulf region with its one-stop online shop. More than 2,200 restaurants in Kuwait have registered with Talabat today. Carriage is another such platform that offers even faster food delivery service. But the global food delivery player Deliveroo’s entry into the Kuwait market has both intensified the race and the life of delivery boys as well. Keeping pace to deliver your favorite food to your door-step, delivery boys on their bikes ride a risky life.

“Unlike other jobs, we’re time-bound. It is important that we deliver on-time. We can delay the order only at a cost. We may even lose our jobs,” Rodrigues, who works for KFC said. Usually restaurants need a delivery time of 30 minutes. But, as the competition intensifies, many claim to deliver in under 25 minutes time, further turning the heat on the delivery boys.

Although restaurants and fast-food chains who hire delivery boys as full-timers provide monthly pay, commissions and other perks, their salaries are not often very attractive. Most of the companies provide insurance cover to their delivery staff that could protect them in the event of an accident. But a large number of delivery boys are part-timers and as such are not eligible for insurance protection, nor for benefits like full-timers. This makes their case more complicated in case they are involved in accidents.

Generally, salaries vary depending on the size of the company. While big players pay a monthly salary ranging from KD 100 to 250 in addition to commission, the small restaurants offer KD 75 to 150 with commission based on the number of deliveries. On an average, a person makes 15 to 20 deliveries a day.

“For part-timers in the food delivery service, it is even more risky. Recently, an Indian boy had to pay a penalty of KD 3,000 to settle an accident case,” said Biju Emmanuel, who is in-charge of a delivery service for several fast-food restaurants in Kuwait. “Delivery boys need to keep their customers happy at all times. Being punctual is one way of attaining it. But the extreme hot weather during most parts of the year and heavily congested roads make their job increasingly difficult,” Emmanuel pointed out.

Many who spoke to Friday Times confirm that on-time delivery is often made difficult because customers often give the wrong address. “Customers often give wrong block numbers or street numbers. This will make our job tough and delay the delivery,” said Hassan, who works for a fast-food chain in Salmiya. On-time delivery is very important, especially when customers can track their order on their smartphones”, he added. There are systems where the delivery boys get rated on their deliveries. Many a time, customers who are not pleased with the service give bad ratings and even report them even if there is no fault on the part of the delivery boys. “This leaves a bad mark and affects their reputation,” said Emmanuel.

By Shreya Sajeev