‘No Love for Deliveroo’: Food Couriers in Massive Valentine’s Day Strike

'We cannot afford to keep going like this any longer.'

by Polly Smythe

15 February 2024

A Deliveroo rider on strike in 2021. Photo: WIktor Szymanowicz via Reuters Connect
A Deliveroo rider on strike in 2021. Photo: WIktor Szymanowicz via Reuters Connect

Thousands of food delivery couriers working for Uber Eats, Just Eat, Deliveroo and Stuart walked off the job on Wednesday, in one of the largest ever strike actions against gig economy platforms in the UK.

The strikes took place across the UK in locations including London, Blackpool, Brighton, Southampton, the West Midlands, Peterborough, Bournemouth as well as in Dublin and Cork in Ireland, hitting the platforms as they were expecting a Valentine’s Day boost in trade. Footage posted online showed large congregations of couriers on their scooters, riding through London, beeping their horns.

Those on the picket lines in the UK were joined by couriers and drivers for ride-hailing apps in America and Canada, with workers at Lyft, Doordash, and Uber striking on what is normally one of the busiest nights of the year for delivery platforms.

In the UK, the Valentine’s Day stoppage was organised by the grassroots group Delivery Job UK. The group, whose members are largely Brazilian, took strike action over plummeting pay during a cost-of-living crisis, long hours, and precarious working conditions.

One of Delivery Job UK’s organisers, a Deliveroo rider, spoke to Novara Media anonymously for fear of deactivation from the apps. They said that couriers, “cannot afford to keep going like this any longer.”

The organiser said that the strike had been organised through WhatsApp groups and social media, along with word-of-mouth outside dark kitchens and restaurants.

As riders are classified by food-delivery platforms as independent self-employed contractors, and not workers, they aren’t entitled to the national minimum wage.

While Deliveroo claims that “every rider is guaranteed to earn the National Minimum Wage plus vehicle costs,” this is only for the time they are on an order, as riders aren’t paid for time spent waiting for an order.

In 2022, a wave of strike action against the gig economy platforms broke out over poor pay, with one courier telling the BBC he earned an hourly rate of £3.70 over seven and a half hours of work – far below the national minimum wage.

Delivery Job UK argues that food-ordering platforms are squeezing couriers to increase their profits by systematically lowering the minimum fee that riders can be offered for a delivery.

In recent years, platforms have reduced the minimum fees offered, down to as little as £2.80 per delivery. This drop in pay means couriers have to work for longer to earn the same amount.

“Couriers tell me ‘I used to work for 8 hours, but now I have to work for 11 hours,’” said the organiser. “Or they’ll say, ‘I used to work five days, and now I have to work six and a half.’ This affects people’s livelihoods, it affects their families, it affects their relationships.”

At the same time, couriers said that “boosts” and “surges” – incentive payments used to increase courier supply at moments of high customer demand – are no longer being offered.

On top of that, platforms are trying to assign riders with more work, without increasing pay. Previously, riders could accept a double order, where two separate deliveries would be collected from the same restaurant. Now, double orders include collecting two separate deliveries from two different restaurants, without an increase in fee.

“For these new double orders, they don’t even calculate a fee plus mileage to reach the second restaurant,” said the organiser. “It’s just a random low number that they try to get you to accept.”

Delivery Job UK is demanding platforms raise the minimum fee to £5, a reintroduction of a boost structure for bank holidays, bad weather, and Sunday working, and for platforms to provide riders with food bags and jackets, instead of riders having to purchase them.

The group argues that the recent deterioration in their pay and conditions is a direct response to the decision of the supreme court in November that riders were not “workers” and therefore did not have a right to collective bargaining.

“Once they got that decision, Deliveroo said to themselves ‘right, now we can do whatever we want,’” said the organiser. “’We’ve got the biggest chunk of the market, and now it’s our time to make a profit.’”

Earlier this month, Delivery Job UK organised its first strike action, which spread to 90 locations within London, as well as Brighton and Liverpool.

Ahead of the 2 February strike, Delivery Job UK wrote to all the companies targeted by the strike.

Deliveroo responded by emailing all couriers a letter from the GMB, with which they signed a voluntary agreement in 2022, stating that they “are the trade union for Deliveroo riders.”

“You have a union to fight for the issues that matter to you” said the email, “like pay, restaurant wait time, and Deliveroo’s approach to deactivations.”

The response from couriers was, “Who the fuck are these guys?” said the organiser. “We’ve never heard of them or been approached by them.”

That Deliveroo signposted the strikers to the GMB confirmed for the organiser and couriers that “they work as PR for Deliveroo,” the organiser said.

In 2022, the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) trade union, which has fought to have riders classified as workers, not as self-employed, called the voluntary recognition a “cynical backroom deal” that “benefits nobody except Deliveroo and the GMB leadership.” GMB defended the deal, however, with Mick Rix, national officer, hailing it as “a blueprint for those working in the platform self-employed sector”.

On the day of the 2 February strike, Deliveroo emailed restaurants, encouraging them to call the police if “partner site staff or customers feel under threat” or they “observe loitering or anti-social behaviour.”

The email continued: “The safety of every member of our marketplace is an absolute priority and anyone found to be engaging in abusive behaviour will be investigated and offboarded from our platform and we will no longer work with them.”

“People were really upset that Deliveroo was encouraging people to call the police on members,” said the organiser.

Uber Eats said that it offered “a flexible way for couriers to earn by using the app when and where they choose,” and that it knows that “the vast majority of couriers are satisfied with their experience on the app.”

Just Eat said that it takes the “concerns of all couriers on the Just Eat network extremely seriously” and “welcomes their feedback.” It said it offered a “highly competitive base rate to self-employed couriers” alongside “regular incentives to help them maximise their earnings.”

A spokesperson for Deliveroo said, “Deliveroo aims to provide riders with the flexible work riders tell us they value, attractive earning opportunities and protections, “ and pointed out its “voluntary partnership agreement with a trade union, which includes annual discussions on pay.”

Stuart didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Polly Smythe is Novara Media’s labour movement correspondent.


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