Bicycle couriers in different European countries are campaigning against exploitative working conditions and basic worker rights. In addition to low pay or direct pay cuts, couriers are often classed as “independent contractors”, “self-employed” or “delivery partners” despite working in conditions that for all intents and purposes resemble employment. Due to this, employment contracts have become a central demand for couriers from Finland to Spain.
An inspiring example of courier organization is the Couriers and Logistics Branch, a voluntary association of couriers who have organized themselves within the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. The IWGB Couriers and Logistics Branch has campaigned for couriers working for different companies, such as the food delivery company Deliveroo, and scoring a major victory after eCourier agreed to pay increases and improvements in working conditions after the union’s campaign.
In other parts of the UK and Ireland couriers have established their own unions affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and gathered as the IWW Couriers Network. Local branches, such as the Couriers Network Cymru in Wales and the Couriers Network Scotland, are campaigning to improve working conditions at food delivery companies such as Deliveroo and UberEATS. Currently, members of the Couriers Network Scotland working for UberEATS are striking in Glasgow to protest pay cuts. Likewise, in the Netherlands, France and Spain couriers working for food delivery companies have organized themselves under the Riders Union and the Collectif des Livreurs Autonomes Parisiens and Riders X Derechos VLC.
Especially couriers are affected by the so called gig economy, under which employers seek to rid themselves of responsibilities towards their workers and of circumvent the mutually agreed on rules of employment. As the business model of these companies is similar and as the companies have spread internationally, it is small wonder that campaigns by couriers in different countries demand the same things: living wages and decent working conditions. As the gig economy companies operate internationally, the couriers unions would do well to establish contacts with each other. And while the couriers are now at the forefront of this, the questions of living wages, workers’ rights and adherence to labor legislation ultimately concern all those who work for a living.