When labour becomes raw-material, humane treatment is forgotten

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During the last few months, Foodora’s activity in Helsinki has been unsustainable for couriers. The company began to expand strongly to new areas during the end of the last year. For a brief moment it seemed that couriers would benefit from this, as the company sought to encourage couriers to work in Espoo and Vantaa with fixed 14€/h payments. This would ensure the couriers income even if orders on the new area turned out to be scarce.

Because of the simultaneous expansion and the decreasing numbers of working couriers due to the cold weather, pay level on old areas rose as well. The company increased the delivery bonus with 1€/delivery for weekdays and with 1.5€/delivery on weekends. Thus for a brief moment it seemed that paylevels would be a bit more comfortable. It seemed also that the following months would be more secure in terms of shifts and that couriers did not face the prospect of being left completely without work, even if a couriers position in the Foodora ranking system would have been low.

Every good thing however ends, and Foodora’s response to the need for couriers was to recruit so many couriers that shift availability ended, which came as a surprise to many couriers. The momentary availability of shifts and better payment changed almost instantly to complete lack of shifts and income.

This situation has continued not for weeks and it shows how Foodora treats its couriers. They are mere raw-material for the company for which it can pay momentarily a better price, when supply is low. At the same time, the company tries to lessen the costs of labour by over-recruiting couriers in relation to the availability of shifts.

Couriers are however people and not just raw-material for production. It is often impossible for couriers to anticipate how Foodora will react and whether it will recruit too large a number of new couriers. For example, fewer shifts at a wrong time may lead to the courier dropping in the shift allocation ranking, and that may have dire consquences for the courier.

Without shifts there is no income, and without income the couriers does not pay rent, food or bills. For some couriers, a prolonged lack of income may even mean the loss of residency permits. Foodora shows again with its actions that couriers are just numbers in a inhumane system calculating productivity through algorithms.

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