Long days, low pay and harsh conditions await delivery workers employed by apps such as Deliveroo, Just Eat, Uber Eats and Stuart.
But workers are fighting back for a better deal.
An impressive strike of Just Eat delivery workers, recently outsourced to subcontractor Stuart, has spread from Sheffield to Chesterfield, Sunderland, Huddersfield and Blackpool.
Workers, who are members of the IWGB union, sprung to action after Stuart cut workers’ wages from £4.50 to £3.40 per trip for short journeys.
Sayed is one of the drivers who took part in strikes in Chesterfield.
He told Socialist Worker that cuts to pay will have a devastating impact on workers.
“The new pay structure is a massive blow for us. The price of fuel and insurance is going up, and our general expenditure is increasing,” Sayed explained.
“It’s really hard to make money at the moment. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel worth it.”
Ahmed is also a delivery driver in Chesterfield. He said that Stuart told workers the pay deduction was a “fairer deal for everyone”. But Ahmed is already seeing a drastic reduction in his pay.
“Before, if you did say 22 deliveries a day, you’d usually get around £100 and a small bonus of maybe £10 or £20,” he explained. “Nowadays, for the same amount of orders we don’t reach £100.”
Ahmed added that additional costs that aren’t covered by Just Eat Stuart also decreases workers’ wages.
“Because of long waiting times, you can only do about two jobs an hour. If you’re lucky, that’s £7 an hour,” he said.
“Then you have to factor in other costs like petrol and insurance and you’re looking at making much less.
“And you aren’t paid for the time it takes to drive to where you need to pick up the order. Only the time it takes to drop it off with the customer.
“Because of the low pay you have to work longer hours. I know other drivers who get up at 7 am and finish at 11 pm.
“You can’t have a life with this job.”
Both Ahmed and Sayed agreed that despite Just Eat, Stuart and other delivery apps tell workers they are “self-employed”, but that this isn’t the case.
“The fact is the delivery companies are in complete charge of us,” Ahmed argued.
“They can do whatever they like—they can dock our pay and dismiss us at any time.
“You can’t get in touch with the company if you have problems. There is a support chat but it’s an automated bot, and you can’t speak to a real person who will understand.”
The pay cuts were a final straw for many food delivery workers already angry and keen to keep on fighting.
“In Chesterfield, we made the case to other drivers that if we struck and took action together then we would all benefit,” said Sayed.
For the time being the strikes in Chesterfield have stopped, but Ahmed said workers need to keep up the pressure and keep fighting.
“Delivery drivers are the ones who make Just Eat and Stuart money. We can’t stand for this anymore, and we just can’t take it.”
Battling McDonald’s for a free and safe place to park
In Dalston, east London, delivery riders aren’t asking for much—just a safe space to park while they collect orders from the local McDonald’s.
Delivery driver Son told Socialist Worker that he and other workers are forced to park in Bentley Road car park, too far from the restaurant.
“You have to pay to park at the Bentley car park,” he said. “It’s £2 every time you need to park there, so every trip we take we have to pay an extra £2.”
Riders are fighting to get permission to park in the car park behind the McDonald’s, which is usually empty.
“If you park in the wrong place, you can be fined over £60,” said Son. “That’s more than some of us earn in a day.”
Ed, who organises couriers for the IWGB union, told Socialist Worker that workers are demanding a place to wait for orders that has “shelter, toilets and is safe.”
“This is just another assault on couriers, who are mainly black, Asian and migrant workers. Already they get no sick or holiday pay, and no support from the food delivery apps,” Ed added.
Hackney’s Labour council has so far refused to address the workers grievances.
It has said that couriers must take the issue up with the delivery apps they work for.
To show the council that workers will keep fighting for a safe space to park, drivers on bikes and motorcycles took to protest.
They rode from Ashwin Street to Hackney Town Hall last Thursday and made sure they were noticed.
Workers blared their horns and circled the town hall.
When they arrived at the town hall they chanted, “Stop exploiting us”, “We want dignity” and “Hackney council—shame on you”.
On the steps of the building, workers demanded that the council stop handing out fines to workers who are already so poorly paid.
Son said that taking part in actions, like the protest last Thursday, make delivery workers feel less isolated.
“When we rode into the square, it felt really good. It was good to see the support from local people as well.
“We need to keep putting the pressure on to open up the space behind McDonald’s for riders.”
How do workers fight back?
The demand for food delivery services only increased during the pandemic. But this didn’t amount to a surge in profits.
Last year food delivery app Just Eat reported that they had received 1.1 billion orders.
In the first six months of 2021, Deliveroo reported that orders had doubled from 74.5 million to 148.8 million.
These companies make millions, if not billions, in revenue every year yet struggle to make profit.
So, bosses look to squeeze workers as much as possible.
Last year Deliveroo made a loss of £104.8 million, and at the beginning of the pandemic its sales slumped.
Bosses tried to save the company by sacking 15 percent of its office staff—some 367 people.
But how can workers fight and win against such unscrupulous companies?
Workers striking in Sheffield, Chesterfield and elsewhere showed that withdrawing their labour, even from one restaurant, can stop deliveries altogether.
Spreading and escalating strikes across the country would put immense pressure on the bosses to bow to workers’ demands.
But to make action even more successful and long-lasting, there must be stronger links between workers and their chosen union.
The more drivers that can be recruited to unions, the more collective power the workers will have.