The press gives Deliveroo (and other delivery apps) an easy ride, but for riders? It’s a rough life…

Deliveroo and its competitors are big advertisers and can pay for big lobbying efforts. Trade unions have to fight hard to compete.

Credit: Shopblocks

Let’s begin at the beginning… well, almost. I’ve been writing about the predatory practices of the delivery apps for years, but this piece was pinged into existence by a message from Emiliano Mellino at the Independent Workers Union. He wanted to give me the heads up on a Mirror piece that he thought needed closer inspection.

I think he’s right. Let’s see if any other outlets have run a similar story in the past day or so…

There we are. It is undeniable — though we will see that The Daily Mirror journalist who wrote its story does deny it — that the story is the product of a press release from Deliveroo’s extremely efficient comms team.

Quick sidebar…

Just so we’re clear, I have been making these criticisms of Deliveroo for some time:

Back to the main event…

Here’s how James Andrews of The Mirror responded to Emiliano’s criticisms:

I did ask Emiliano for a quote from the Couriers’ Union. Here it is:

IWGB Couriers and Logistics branch chair Alex Marshall said:

“Deliveroo’s repeated recruitment drives are absolutely devastating to rider wages. When you get paid per delivery every extra rider that is hired in your area means fewer deliveries for you and consequently lower pay. Deliveroo CEO Will Shu fills his mouth with empty talk of riders being heroes, while the people that work for him struggle to put food on the table. We were hoping that food delivery workers would be rewarded for their hard work during the pandemic, instead, the company seems committed to further slashing wages that are already below the minimum wage.”

It is in the interest of Deliveroo that the voices of unions and angry riders are not present in stories it places in the press. We — you and I — should, in the PR plan of the delivery apps, see them as a harmless part of the process, pure convenience for us and a means of making a living for the riders. But the truth is just far more complicated

Vast increases in the number of Deliveroo riders will slash the earnings of current riders, just as an influx of Uber drivers was damaging to the livelihoods of those private hire drivers who joined that service early on. For companies like Deliveroo, riders are human resources in the most brutal sense; the companies want to turn and dial to increase supply and not think too much about the individuals who make up that capacity.

The government and Deliveroo are as cosy as Deliveroo and large parts of the media. Here’s what Tribune observed at last year’s Tory Party conference:

Therese Coffey is the new Work and Pensions Secretary, following Amber Rudd’s recent resignation. Her top priority was to come to Conservative conference and address a breakfast meeting alongside Hitchen MP Bim Afolami, a Tory “rising star.” The meeting was organised by Onward, a new Tory think tank, but funded by gig economy giant Deliveroo.

Deliveroo has, of course, been at the heart of numerous industrial actions in recent times over how badly they treat their workers. Deliveroo riders are nominally self-employed, as a way of getting around their employment rights — and the company has faced court cases and strikes internationally from workers who say this is bogus and exploitative.

The Deliveroo-funded meeting at Tory conference reflected none of this. Bim Afolami MP declared that he “knew some of Deliveroo’s guys and they are doing great work.” Will Tanner, formerly Theresa May’s Deputy Head of Policy and now director of the Onward think tank, chaired the meeting. He set the tone by saying Deliveroo “have done more than most to reform the world of work.”

Deliveroo’s own Head of Public Affairs, Giles Derrington, addressed the meeting at length. Successful tech firms are known in the industry as “unicorns” — and Derrington claimed Deliveroo was “a special pink, sparkly kind of unicorn.” As well as generally singing Deliveroo’s praises, Derrington nakedly and at length lobbied for the firm’s “charter of rights.”

Derrington portrayed Deliveroo as simply unfortunate — the company couldn’t pay riders sick pay “because we are not their employer.” If, however, their charter of rights was accepted, Deliveroo would be able to give riders sick pay. Unfortunately, this charter would be in place of riders’ existing rights — and would stop any legal challenge to their self-employed status. If the government authorise Deliveroo’s charter then, Derrington told the conference room in the five-star hotel, the courts “can’t reinterpret the employment status” of their riders.

In May, a cross-party coalition of MPs warned that Deliveroo was not doing remotely enough to protect its riders during the pandemic:

THOUSANDS of workers are being “put at risk” by Deliveroo, a cross-party coalition of 44 MPs warned today as they demanded the company protect the incomes and safety of riders.

In a letter to the courier firm’s CEO, Will Shu, MPs said the company’s actions counter efforts by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The MPs, including the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and Conservative Sir Peter Bottomley, demanded income protection, an end to sackings, and health-and-safety protection for couriers during the pandemic.

“Thousands of people are currently being put at risk by your actions,” the letter said.

“Deliveroo couriers are low-paid, precarious workers, who are not able to self-isolate when sick or to protect their families, and clients and restaurant staff and other key workers including NHS staff are being potentially exposed to infection.”

The letter said that ignoring the demands would be “highly irresponsible.”

The IWGB and the MPs asked the following of Deliveroo:

  • Halt all dismissals of riders — known as “terminations” — until the crisis ends
  • Offer full pay to couriers that have to self-isolate because of Covid-19
  • Allow high-risk couriers to self-isolate for 12 weeks on full pay
  • Offer adequate PPE for all riders
  • Offer regular Covid-19 tests to all riders
  • Provide the guarantee of a minimum standard, including a guaranteed pay of at least the minimum wage plus costs, holiday pay and sick pay.

Though Shu considers his riders ‘heroes’, apparently, these provisions have largely been left unconsidered let alone applied.

Why haven’t I quoted Deliveroo in this article? The newspapers have got that covered. I’m not here to be fair. I’m here to try to rebalance the scales. The next time you see an article on a so-called startup wunderkind, ask yourself this: Is the voice of the workers included? If not, ring the alarm.

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Writer, editor and internet arguer.

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