The problem is not the undocumented courier, but the system creating undocumentation


The bad working conditions of platform workers, particularly those of Wolt and Foodora, are again being discussed thanks to the important article by Helsingin Sanomat (23.04.). As we, Helsingin Sanomat and many others have noted, Wolt and Foodora are circumventing employer responsibilities and externalizing costs of production to couriers, who are working as “partners”. That is, as seemingly independent or sham entrepreneurs. By keeping couriers as “freelancers”, the companies do not have to pay their pensions, take care of sick leaves or pay for the means of production, namely the vehicles, which are owned by the couriers.

As the article by Helsingin Sanomat shows, this creates the possibilities for even worse abuse. Now contracting companies and individual actors are renting accounts needed for courier work to those, who cannot create an account of their own. One group that needs to borrow accounts are undocumented migrants, who have no other possibility to work. We believe that anyone of us would in those circumstances do the same, namely try to work for our living by any available means. At the same time, it is understandable that hose couriers, who have an account, but who have to earn large amounts of money to keep their residency permits or qualify for family reunification, rent out their accounts for additional small income.

The circumvention of employer responsibilities by Wolt and Foodora is only part of the problem. Another part is the harsh immigration policy of Finland, where on the one hand high income demands for residency permits force people to work under bad conditions and which, on the other hand, creates undocumented migrants, who can be preyed upon by companies and middlemen.

We think Wolt and Foodora need to acknowledge that their couriers are employees and start to take responsibility for them. At the same time, the employment of immigrants must be eased so that people do not have to subject themselves to abuse and exploitation just to make make a living.

Justice for couriers – finally!

suomeksi / Facebook

The Labour Council of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment stated on Thursday 15th of October that the food couriers of Wolt and Foodora are to be considered employees. The statement by the council is not a binding decision on the interpretation of law as a court precedent decision would be, but it is an important interpretation and request on how the law should in this case be applied. It also affirms what out campaign has said for long: couriers are employees, not entrepreneurs!

Since the beginning, the aim of our campaign has been that those couriers who want to work as employees instead of freelance-partnerships will be given the possibility to sign an employment contract, if they so wish. We now hope that the Labour Council’s statement advances this aim both at Foodora as well as Wolt.

As a result of the statement, Foodora has sent its couriers a message to state that everything is in order and has commented the statement in a round-about way. Wolt for its part has noted that the interpretation in favor of employment will lead to the ending of contracts for thousands of couriers and the hiring of “new” couriers working as employees for worse pay.

Our campaign emphasizes that in Finnish working life these issues are usually negotiated, not dictated. We hope that the Labour Council’s statement would lead to negotiations over a collective agreement between the companies and an existing union best representing food couriers, for example the Service Union United, PAM. The rights of couriers, just as any other workers, are best protected by collective agreements. #justice4couriers

Food courier in Dhaka

suomeksi / Facebook

During the COVID-19 pandemic, service workers, such as food delviery couriers, have been in the frontlines. They have risk their health and even their lives so that others can stay safe in their homes.

Sometimes, risk as are compounded: In the end of July, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh was severly flooded. This shows how people, who are least responsible for climate change, namely the poor in the Global South, are those who first suffer its consequences. This photo shows our Bangladeshi colleague, who works for Foodpanda (the Asian brand-name of Foodora), delivering food amidst the flood and the COVID-19 pandemic. The text asks how little the courier gets for the delivery, maybe 60 cents or perhaps one euro (70 to 100 Bangladeshi Taka).

We want to express solidarity to our colleagues working in inhumane conditions and we want to remind everyone how essential service and maintenance work is. Food delivery couriers deserve to do their work in decent conditions, for decent wages and with the same protections as others.

Solidarity for cleaners!

suomeksi / Facebook

Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest daily, published yesterday a very thorough investigative article by Paavo Teittinen about the systematic exploitation, abuse and threatening of workers in the cleaning business. Teittinen’s article shows how certain cleaning companies take advantage of the vulerable position of refugees, who may be unaware of the Finnish legislation and who fear deportations. The immediate and gross crimes mentioned in the article must be investigated promptly.

The problem however is, as the article shows, a structural one: large buyers, like municipalities and chains, get their cleaning where they get if the cheapest. The clients often do not care about wrong-doings, and even if they do, they have limited means to address them. Similarly, the article shows how officials often act indifferently towards immigrant workers, dismissing their problems and telling them to ‘get better jobs’.

The article also mentions how fake freelancing and models of the platform economy have crept into the cleaning services. These models are familiar to us couriers as well, and Teittinen too has written an article about our position. This also points out to an issue we have long since addressed, namely when wrong-doings and exploitation on one sector is allowed, are they quickly adopted on other sectors as well. The article shows what we too have been sainyg: punishing individual wrong-doers is not enough, but solving the problem requires larger political decisions aimed to protect workers and especially those in the most vulnerable position.

The exploitation and violence encountered by the cleaners is worse and more gross than what us couriers have experienced. As many food delivery couriers are of immigrant background and thus in a more precarious position on the labour market, we are painfully aware of the fear of the cleaners and we commend those who bravely spoke up. Direct and structural racism is an acute problem in Finnish society. There can be no defense of worker rights without active anti-racism.

Our full support to cleaners and other maintenance workers who along with couriers keep the cogs of this society turning! We demand that decision makers act to root out systemic exploitation and encourage all workers to organize, because ultimately our best protection is our mutual solidarity!

The corona crisis and couriers’ rights

suomeksi / Facebook

With the corona crisis, even Foodora has for once agreed to pay compensation for work gear to its couriers, so that they acquire hygiene products to protect themselves and customers. It is of course a different thing whether at this stage the is any desinfectant to be found and whether the 12€ is enough as prices of the said products goes up. Ang naturally the receipt hassle is left for the couriers to sort out.

The approach by the competitor Wolt is better, in as much one of the company representatives has publicly announced that the company thinks about procuring 20 000 bottles of hand sanitizer for its couriers. From today company also provides financial assistance to the couriers who are diagnosed with Covid-19.

These are good initiatives, but we also remind that sick leaves, insurances and work safety issues along with protective gear are best solved when couriers are employed. The employment legislation sets these things. The current crisis has shown how dependent our society is of people in low-paid jobs, who do critically important work to overcome the crisis.

Many news outlets have pointed out that the demand for home delivery services has risen with quarantines and people staying at home. Couriers are doing important work in a difficult situation, as they make sure that also people under seclusion get their food. Because of this, they should have employment contracts and the safety associated with it, not just during the corona epidemic, but during other cases of illness or accidents. #justice4couriers

Solidarity for Nepalese cooks!

suomeksi / Facebook

We want to show solidarity to the Nepali cooks working under exceptionally bad and exploitative conditions in Nepalese restaurants in Finland.

The lack of worker rights and fear of losing residency permits affects also many food couriers, even though they are not victims of human trafficking, blackmailing and forced indeptedness like the cooks.

We are worried that many of the restaurants mentioned in the article are familiar to us food couriers as restaurants working with Foodora and Wolt. Ordering food from these restaurants is unethical, because both the working conditions of food delivery services and especially the restaurants face heavy criticism. Solidarity forever!

#justice4couriers #solidarityforever

Our second meeting with Wolt

suomeksi / Facebook

On the 5th of February, representatives of the Justice4Courier campaign met for the second time with Wolt to discuss the working conditions of couriers. From our point of view, the meeting was very constructive and we agreed to meet with Wolt again in few months time to discuss issues further.

In the meeting, both Wolt and Justice4Couriers members suggested topics to be discussed. Both parties wanted to discuss the concrete conditions and terms of courier work and possible changes to them. In the meeting, we focused especially on two possible ways, or routes, to improve couriers’ working conditions:
1. Improvements into the freelancing model, such as insurances
2. The possibility for employment

Both Wolt and Justice4Couriers representatives acknowledged that the first route “cements” freelancing as a working model. Because of this, it we in the Justice4Couriers campaign prefer employment contracts as the way to improve courier working conditions. We discussed insurances and agreed that even though we prefer a more comprehensive solution offered by employment contracts, we welcome any and all improvements to the concete situations of couriers. Insurances that cover at least the worse case scenarios, such as injuries, are important, because we all agreed that as couriers work in traffic, someone is bound to be involved in a serious accident.

Wolt representatives told that as one way to improve the safety networks of couriers the company explores the possibility of offering employment contracts to couriers. The first phase in this is to map out what practical possibilities this would offer to organize the work of couriers economically and judicially in Finland and in other countries Wolt operates in. Our campaign is very pleased that Wolt explores this possibility. In our meeting, we discussed different practical issues such as shift and payment models that could be included in the employment contract. The discussion was in our opinion constructive and practical. Both parties seemed to favor a “dual model” where Wolt would have a (limited number) of employees and (a larger number) of freelancers. We acknowledge that Wolt has to explore how it would practically implement this and that such a change takes time. According to Wolt, the “dual model” has poses legal questions that the company needs to ponder. (The company notes that employment should be organized partly differently than freelancing to be legally feasible.)

All in all, our campaign representatives and campaign members who were briefed about the meeting, were very happy with yesterday’s discussion. We look forward to a new meeting with Wolt and we are happy that we have a constructive discussion relationship with Wolt. We want to continue similar discussions in the future, because ultimately, we believe, they will serve both the company and the couriers. After the meeting, Wolt contacted us and noted that company is happy that they have constructive and mutually appreacitve communication channel with the campaign.

PS. To open up how our campaign operates: the campaign group selects persons to represent the campaign at each meeting. The representatives have no mandate to make any agreements on behalf of the campaign, unless explicitly given so by the campaign group. Representatives are chosen anew for each meeting.

When labour becomes raw-material, humane treatment is forgotten

suomeksi / Facebook

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.

Sad news from London, again

suomeksi / Facebook

On Friday night the 3rd of January 2020 Takieddine Boudhane, a 30 year old courier of the food delivery company Deliveroo, was murdered in North London during his shift. According to the police and news, Boudhane was stabbed to death by an unidentified van driver in “road rage”. Last Friday, Deliveroo and UberEATS couriers gathered on the murder scene to commemorate their colleague and to pray. For the last two days, Deliveroo and UberEATS couriers in London have been on strike in memory of their colleague and to demand the companies to address work place safety issues. Deliveroo and UberEATS have not responded to the couriers.

We the couriers of the Justice4Couriers campaign in Finland want to offer our condolances to the family of Boudhane, particularly his mother and brother, as well as to our colleagues in London, who have lost one of their own. Boudhane was murdered only six months after Iderval de Silva, also a Deliveroo courier from London, died after moped thieves had attacked him during his shift. Over the last two years, several couriers have died around the world in traffic and work place accidents.

In Britain, Deliveroo and UberEATS couriers are classed as “independent contractors” or freelancers, just like Foodora and Wolt couriers here in Finland. Due to this, the couriers are denied basic worker rights and protections, such as sick leaves. Courier work is physically demanding and all work in traffic is risky, especially for bicycle and moped couriers, who are particularly vulnerable. The couriers branch of the British IWGB union as well as the Justice4Couriers campaign have repeatedly emphasized that couriers working in traffic under conditions of de facto employment absolutely need basic worker rights and protections.

With solidarity,
the couriers of the Justice4Couriers campaign,

Justice4Couriers: A year of campaigning

Our #justice4couriers campaign began a year ago when we staged a demonstration in front of the Foodora HQ and handed over our demands to the company. For many of us couriers, myself included, this campaign has been campaign of firsts: speaking publicly at demonstrations, sending out press releases, giving interviews to the media, writing analyses of the platform economy and taking part in grassroots labour organizing in Finland and internationally. When we launched the campaign, we were not quite sure what would happen. Now after a year of action, it seems in order to look back and see what we have accomplished.

Last year’s pay cuts issued by Foodora were the last straw for many couriers who had witnessed a steady deterioration of their working conditions, which were precarious from the start. Many of us couriers had realized that as freelancers we lacked all legal protections that many employees take for granted. We saw how our colleagues who were injured on the job were left on their own devices, how couriers paid for the maintenance of their own vehicles and if they could afford it, their own insurances and pensions. We saw the sacking of dispatchers and cost-saving measures through the automation of shift allocation, which caused many long-time couriers to miss out on shifts – and the pay they depended on. For weeks to come, we saw colleagues change their clothes out in the cold after the closing of social spaces, while hearing the shallow start-up hype of being “valued as delivery partners”. When the pay was cut, we got together and started organizing.

We did not know quite how, but we met with grassroots unionists from Vapaa syndikaatti and Vastavoima and began planning the campaign. We wanted to repeal the pay cuts, but we knew that in order to solve the problems of couriers, we needed to get them employment contracts.

When we started out #justice4couriers, I personally thought that we might be able to repeal the pay cuts, just maybe, without a larger impact and that it would end within a few months.

Instead the opposite happened. While Foodora ignored us, which it has done to this day, we were soon joined by Wolt couriers, and the media, trade unions and even politicians listened to our demands. Now, a year after, the problems of the gig economy and forced entrepreneurship are an established part of public discourse and the new government programme states that the circumvention of employer responsibilities will be stopped.

I have been active in #justice4couriers campaign since it’s very beginning. Now i’m abroad and not able to take part too much, but I am glad to see that the campaign is gaining new members and continues, while early actives take a break. The turnover of people is a sign of healthy campaign.

There are continuities: couriers still take the lead with the steadfast support of grassroots unionists and the campaign operates in a non-hierarchical and consensus-based manner. When we started the campaign, this form of organizing was not our explicit aim, but something which we just did in order for everyone to feel welcome. Only later did we realize that we have been working non-hierarchically and based on consensus.Personally, I feel that regardless of the outcome of #justice4couriers, creating such an environment for us to work in is one of our greatest accomplishments. Similarly, as an off-shoot of the campaign, couriers founded a grassroots collective called the Finnish Courier Collective, which seeks to create structures of mutual aid for bicycle couriers whether working for platform giants, employed or as independent couriers. We are currently setting up emergency funds and exploring other ways in which couriers can help each other.

Through this campaign we have also come into contact with fellow courier activists and unions over the world, and regularly discuss common issues, strategies and goals together.

While these are big accomplishments, we still struggle to get the pay cuts repealed and decent working conditions for couriers, who bear the economical and physical risks of the dangerous and demanding job. The physical task of delivery is the backbone of these companies, but couriers are the only ones at Wolt and Foodora who are denied even the most basic worker rights. Because of this, we keep organizing.

With Solidarity,

Tuomas Tammisto
researcher and courier