By Clara Murray
After last week’s snub by bankers and investors which saw nearly £4billion wiped off the company’s value at its disastrous launch on the stockmarket, today Deliveroo was facing a revolt by the people it relies upon the most, its riders, as they staged a nationwide strike for fair pay, safety protections and basic workers’ rights.
Thousands of Deliveroo riders in London, including dozens in Croydon, have joined the strike, organised by the Independent Workers’ Union. The IWGB says Deliveroo is now “the world’s most protested app-based platform”.
Today’s strike comes on the first full day’s trading of Deliveroo shares on the London Stock Exchange. At least a dozen major investment funds declared that they would not be investing in the takeaway delivery firm because of concerns raised about the company’s treatment of its riders.
Founded in 2013 and based in London, Deliveroo now operates in 11 countries and claims to have 140,000 restaurants signed up to its network. Deliveroo makes its money via delivery, sign-up, and service fees, as well as by offering premium subscriptions and selling food through its own cloud kitchens. Riders are paid on an “on-demand” basis.
Since the first lockdown, when restaurants and cafés were closed to halt the spread of coronavirus, Deliveroo riders have become a vital part of the covid economy, providing delivery service when most food outlets have been unable to welcome customers.
The RooVolt strike is the latest challenge to the gig economy, and follows court cases with dial-a-ride company Uber which could see the employment status of its drivers transformed.
Last month, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed that Deliveroo pays some of its riders as little as £2 per hour, well below the national minimum wage of £8.91, and a long way short of the London Living Wage of £10.85 per hour. The Deliveroo average payment is not even one-third of the £6.56 legal minimum wage for workers aged between 18 and 20.
Just as Uber has done in the past, Deliveroo classes its workers as self-employed, making the below-minimum pay legal.
Deliveroo claims its riders on average earn more than £10 per hour, and up to £13 per hour at the busiest times.
Deliveroo says it looks at average pay “from the moment a rider accepts a Deliveroo order until they complete the order. This is more than the national minimum wage”.
The company – which in 2018 reported UK revenues of £476million – emphasises that riders have the freedom to accept or reject any order and many enjoy the flexibility the platform allows them.
But responses from riders paints a very different picture. In London, 66 riders submitted their Deliveroo invoices to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, covering over 15,000 orders. In 54 per cent of cases, riders earned less than £10 per hour while logged into the app.
The riders highlight unpaid waiting times at restaurants, a lack of sick and holiday pay, and unsafe working conditions.
The distinctive uniform means many have been targets of violence – in South Norwood in 2019, a Deliveroo rider was punched in the face and had his moped and phone stolen by a gang.
And the algorithm used to assign deliveries can be confusing, leaving riders unsure how much they will earn. “It’s not transparent at all,” said Kerry, 25, a Deliveroo cyclist from south London.
“Some shifts you really feel like you’ve cracked the algorithm, like it’s working perfectly, and then you try the same thing and that doesn’t work. I’ve noticed recently it’s much harder to have enough money… From my experience, in the area I work, on a bike, there’s no way I could earn enough to support myself.
“You have to try out all these different methods and come up with all these different theories about how to earn more money. Like, should I stand here? Should I keep moving around? If I reject a lot of orders, will I be lower in the priority system?”
Another Croydon-based rider claimed they are paid between £3 and £20 an hour “with boosts”, and they were promised a £500 bonus after the company’s IPO – the initial public offering, offering shares to the public. But an increase in the radius riders can accept orders within – from two to 20 miles – has meant “more work less money”.
There are hopes that Deliveroo will start listening to its riders’ complaints. A Supreme Court ruling that Uber drivers may not be regarded as self-employed may alter the entire gig economy.
Political pressure is also mounting – last year, 50 MPs signed an open letter to Deliveroo’s CEO Will Shu supporting an IWGB campaign for safer conditions during covid. Among the signatories were Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Clive Lewis and Streatham MP Bell Janet Ribeiro-Addy, as well as the SNP’s Mhairi Black, the Greens’ Caroline Lucas and veteran Conservative Peter Bottomley. Neither Steve Reed OBE, the Labour MP for Croydon North, nor Croydon Central’s Sarah Jones, were signatories to the letter.
“They said it couldn’t be done, but by getting organised and speaking out, riders have triggered a domino effect which already slashed £3billion from Deliveroo’s stockmarket valuation,” said Alex Marshall, a former bicycle courier and the President of the IWGB, said ahead of today’s industrial action.
“That should give pause to any corporation that thinks precarious workers can be endlessly exploited without consequence.”
- Are you a Deliveroo driver based in Croydon who took part in the strikes? Get in touch with Inside Croydon to share your story: firstname.lastname@example.org
- By 1pm today, Deliveroo shares were trading at 286.42p, well down on the 460p level the company had hoped to sell them for in its IPO when they valued their business as being worth £9billion.
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