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Deliveroo strike: ‘I’ve lost sleep not knowing how much I’ll make next week’

York Deliveroo rider Ethan Bradley tells The Big Issue the time is now for the firm to pay riders a fair wage and boost their rights
Deliveroo riders are walking out to call on the firm to pay them fairly and improve working conditions. Image credit: Flickr/Shopblocks

Deliveroo riders have told The Big Issue they “have a real opportunity” to boost fair pay and workers’ rights as they go on strike across the UK on Wednesday.

Hundreds of Deliveroo riders will walk out less than a fortnight after the revelation that some earn as little as £2 an hour delivering meals to customers via the company’s smartphone app. 

Deliveroo pays riders by the job with fees changing based on demand, making earnings volatile, difficult to predict and subject to how many orders a rider receives.

The delivery firm lost more than £2bn from its valuation on the London Stock Exchange in late March after the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s report found a third of Deliveroo riders earned less than the adult minimum wage.

Strikers will launch socially distanced protests on Wednesday in London, York, Sheffield, Reading and Wolverhampton – Ethan Bradley will be among them.

“This is a real opportunity for us,” said Bradley, who has been a Deliveroo rider in York for three years.

“We need basic security of earnings, I’ve had many weeks when I’ve lost sleep at night because I don’t know how much I’m going to make the following week because the pandemic means demand goes up and down.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make the rent next week, or pay the bills. Many riders have family, have dependents and have kids to feed. This would mean so much to them.”

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As well as fair pay, riders are on strike to demand greater safety measures to report harassment or abuse received on the job, a transparent termination process, and to be classed as dependent contractors – meaning they are self-employed but providing a service as part of a business.

Bradley said strikers “feel cheated” by the company which described riders as key workers during the pandemic “while presiding over our wages falling and falling and not giving us the basic protections,” he said.

“We feel like they couldn’t care less whether their riders make a living as long as their orders get delivered.”

Ethan Bradley Deliveroo Strike
Ethan Bradley Deliveroo
York rider Ethan Bradley says the Deliveroo strike is a "real opportunity" to improve matters for riders. Image credit: Supplied

The chair of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain’s (IWGB) Couriers and Logistics Branch Greg Howard will also be striking tomorrow.

Howard said he caught Covid while working as a rider during the pandemic and told The Big Issue that the “tide is beginning to turn” on conditions.

“I’ve seen conditions decline for years and then working through lockdown I contracted Covid-19 and got very little support from Deliveroo,” said Howard. 

“After the pandemic more people than ever understand this exploitation is no way to treat anyone, let alone key workers. The turning of the tide is clear. It’s time for rights for riders.”

Deliveroo told The Big Issue the majority of the 50,000 riders will be working on Wednesday. A Deliveroo spokesperson said: “The IWGB does not represent the vast majority of riders who tell us they value the total flexibility they enjoy while working with Deliveroo alongside the ability to earn over £13 an hour. 

“We are proud that rider satisfaction is at an all-time high and that thousands of people are applying to be Deliveroo riders each and every week. Riders are at the heart of our business and today we are beginning a new consultation with riders about how we should invest our new £50 million community fund.”

Deliveroo riders’ demands for a living wage, safety protections and basic workers’ rights comes as attitudes to so-called gig economy workers have begun to change during the pandemic.

Delivery rival Just Eat turned its back on a “bogus self-employment model” last year, vowing in December to pay the minimum living wage as well as sick leave and pension contributions for riders as part of its Scoober delivery service.

A Supreme Court ruling in February also found Uber drivers are to be considered workers, not self-employed, intensifying the scrutiny on Deliveroo’s model.

The BIJ investigation put the firm even further into the limelight – showing one in three riders made less than the national minimum wage for over-25s based on invoices from more than 300 riders.

IWGB has raised more than £10,000 to support workers taking action with supportive protests also pencilled in to take place in Australia, Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Spain.

Alex Marshall, IWGB president and a former bicycle courier, said: “They said it couldn’t be done but by getting organised and speaking out, riders have triggered a domino effect which already slashed £3bn from Deliveroo’s valuation and that should give pause to any corporation that thinks precarious workers can be endlessly exploited without consequence.

“It’s time for Deliveroo to do the right thing, recognise its riders as workers and treat them like human beings.”

The Conservative Government’s 2019 election manifesto vowed to introduce legislation to bring in “high standards” of workers’ rights acting on the 2017 Taylor review. But Professor Bacon insisted a “lack of substantive action” means strikes and court dates are the only way workers can act to improve conditions.

“I think we will see this kind of action become more prevalent,” said Professor Nick Bacon, from City, University of London’s Business School.

“Ultimately, what we do know is there are some very vulnerable workers here. You’ve got organisations exercising power without a lot of responsibility.

“The government has been concerned that it is hollowing out the tax base with too many people on self-employment, especially if it is bogus self-employment, and that is creating a subclass of workers. It is a model under strain.”