Bread & Roses

The campaign by Foodora couriers moves now to its second phase and approaches restaurants with bread and roses.

The Foodora couriers started a campaign on September 6th in cooperation with Vapaa Syndikaatti and Vastavoima to demand the repeal of the recent pay cuts and improvements in the working conditions of couriers. The vast majority of Foodora’s couriers work under ‘freelance agreements’, where they do not have normal employment rights, such as sick leave or insurances. In July, the couriers’ hourly pay was cut and now drivers do not get parking allowance or fuel subsidies. The couriers ask for fair pay and decent working conditions. We want bread, but roses too.

Because Foodora has not addressed the demands of the couriers, the second phase of the campaign begins on October 13. On that day we organize an event where couriers deliver bread and roses to restaurants and asks them to support the couriers struggle for better working conditions. The Foodora couriers believe that couriers and restaurants have, as service sector workers, much in common and shared interests. We want to deliver food from restaurants to clients’ homes under fair working conditions!

We approach restaurants as friends and ask them to publicly support couriers or to approach Foodora directly in support of couriers. As food couriers, we want to give the restaurants bread, because we know how important food is. And we want to give roses, because we know that mere bread is not enough, but workers need appreciation as well.

Our days shall not be sweated from birth until life closes,
Hearts starve as well as bodies, Give us bread, but gives us roses

Why I support the campaign? Courier Per Ehrstöm

I did my first shift for Foodora in December 2017. I had just started studying again and needed to find work that I could do while studying. After a “test ride” with another rider I was employed and did my first shift a few weeks later.

The fact that there really wasn’t any kind of help offered for the riders surpised me. No place to change clothes, fix your bike or eat something. I did quite a lot of shifts during the winter and had to get suitable clothes and better tyres for my bike. Foodora provides you with jackets and shirts, but the rest you have to get yourself.

Foodora doesn’t collaborate with any bikeshop or help you with your bike maintance. What this means is that if you don’t have the gear and clothes for riding in the winter, you need to do quite many shifts in order to cover these costs.

Foodora doesn’t provide you with any insurance, they only recommend that you have your own insurance. Most insurance companies provide you with a quite affordable accident insurance, not many of them cover injuries that come from wear and tear. Riding a bike for many hours a day, in cold weather and with a heavy backpack is hard on your neck and back. I hurt my neck during the winter and had to take a break from taking shifts.

You book your shifts on a weekly basis and the system puts you in different groups called “batches” based on how actively you have been working. If you work a lot, you get access to the shifts earlier, if you haven’t been working much you get access to them later. If you are in the later batches there aren’t usually that many shifts left. So basically, in order to get work, you need to work. After I hadn’t worked for a while it was nearly impossible to get shifts. The only way to get shifts is to constantly check if somebody has given up their shift and then take that, at which point we are a long way from the type of flexibility Foodora promises their riders.

Foodora sees their employees as “freelancers” and the company acquits itself of any responsibility of their workers wellbeing. The riders and car drives operate under the kind of working conditions that absolutely should be considered as employment and they should have better rights.

Instead of making the working conditions better Foodora seems to only make them worse. I’m fortunate enough to have other another job, and I wont be returning to Foodora before the working conditions are made better. Since all of us don’t have the same possibility, I sincerely hope that Foodora will take more responsibility for their workers and give them the rights that they deserve.

Per is a 34 years old dramaturgy student at the Theatre Academy at the University of the Arts.

Why I support the campaign? MP Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto

The Greens have been addressing changes of working life and the increase of irregular work over recent years. For many people today, part-time work has become a part of everyday life. Full-time and continuous work is not available to many, who instead have to gain their income by working several jobs at once. Self-employment and gig jobs will also increase in the future. However, this should not mean that working conditions and workers’ income can be subjected to cuts like those made now. The problems brought up by the change of work need to be addressed and responsible entrepreneurship needs to be supported!

The position of Foodora couriers has been weakened. Many couriers have few income possibilities and the position to negotiate with the employer is non-existent. The platform economy needs to provide working conditions that secure the rights of couriers. Because of this I support the Foodora Take Responsibility campaign, in which couriers are fighting for fair working conditions.

Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto
MP, The Greens

Translated by Marcus Nicolson & Tuomas Tammisto from Finnish.

Support from the PAU Pasila branch

The Pasila branch of Post and Logistics Union PAU supports our campaign.

Warm thanks to PAU’s Pasila branch and its chair, chief shop steward Jari Pellikka, who writes:

” The platform economy is arriving to Finland and unfortunately in the worst possible way.

If the unilateral dictating following the example of Foodora becomes more common, the labor market returns to the 1800s. Then we are again in a situation were the rights of the wage workers don’t matter much.

In order to prevent this development, the struggle of the Foodora couriers deserves not only the support of the branch, which I represent, but of the whole trade union movement.”

This is not freelancing, but employment

Foodora’s freelance couriers and car drivers are not allowed to refuse orders during their shifts. They are thus treated like employees, even though as “delivery partners” they lack basic worker rights.

See the screenshots of a courier’s exchange with the dispatchers and the following email from Foodora warning about refusing orders.

Why I support the campaign? Foodora courier Henri Siira

My name is Henri Siira, current Rider Captain at Foodora, and I support this campaign.

Taking a stand is easy when one’s labor rights are guaranteed by the scope of national law. That is not the case for those affected by Foodora’s recent policies. Starting out as a freelancer, I’ve known the other side of the fence, and the work I do now as a courier is for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from the work I did back then. I want to give my voice to all the couriers caught trying to survive in this wild west of work that is the so-called platform economy – an industry that has weaponized semantics, thus managing to roll back one hundred years of struggles for fair labor rights in favor of unchecked exploitation of the human as a factor of production.

During the two years I’ve been with Foodora I’ve witnessed both good times and bad – the former preceding the latter. When I started in 2016 the good times were pretty good; a warm and collaborative atmosphere at the office, amplified by caring fleet managers who’d engage you in conversation; riders coming in whenever during their shifts to warm up, use the toilet or eat some food; sometimes a bowl of fruit or a pack of biscuits on the rider space table, all provided by the company, as to say “you are important to us, we care about you”.

The subsequent bad has in turn been pretty bad. This last year has seen systematic and serious degradation of working conditions especially for delivery partners, starting with outsourcing the dispatching to Germany, discontinuing the rider space with all its essential functions, automating and cutting resources from the communication between management and riders, and most recently culminating in a de facto dictated pay cut across the board. The official line is that the company still cares for its riders, but actions suggest otherwise. Or at a minimum, other, more excel sheet economic, factors take way more priority.

I think working conditions shouldn’t be a derivative of the benevolence or rapaciousness of a company, as is the case of my experience with the ‘two faces’ of Foodora. I think this is what labor laws were established for in the first place. I think it’s a travesty that this type of grey zone labor has been slipped through the cracks of the finnish legal so-called-safety net, and is still allowed to persist.

Notes from the road

My shift today was a prime example of how the short-sighted decisions of Foodora show in practice.

I have been working for 5 months as a bike courier for Foodora.

My shift started at noon. The morning was really rainy but gladly at that point it wasn’t downpouring. Normally I would’ve waited at the Foodora office / courier hub for orders to start coming, but as the hub was closed due to “financial reasons” I waited at a park. If the weather is bad and business is slow then you seek shelter from a shopping center. To start their shifts, couriers must be within 1 km radius from the city center, so for many of us it’s not an option to wait at home.

I got my first task pickup half an hour later. I met one of the rider captains while waiting and asked them if I could change my gear at the warehouse. The jacket I got when I started at Foodora is ridiculously large and uncomfortable. You could only choose from large sizes, that’s all that was left. After closing the hub, the gear was stored in a storage unit. There’s a certain time – one hour – each week to change your gear at a warehouse. Also, there is no laundry option anymore, so you may have to wash the gear yourself (even the newcomers). Same goes with the backpacks. To ensure the food you carry stays germ-free, it would make a lot of sense to use a professional laundry service for the bags. The funniest thing was that the company’s paperwork was also stuffed in one of the boxes on the corner of the storage unit. The storage unit served as an office as well…

When my shift began, the first orders were as usual: some restaurants a bit late and some a bit early. Then at one point more orders started coming. I got a triple delivery, which is not common practice at Foodora – and as a cyclist you can only fit so much in your backpack. Of course, a triple would be a bit more profitable, IF you can fit the bags in your backpack, but even normal orders can be fairly large and stuffing them too tightly will cause the packaging to be be damaged and food may spill. Some restaurants use cumbersome packaging, which makes things even more interesting.

Anyway I asked the dispatcher to redirect the 3rd order, as I couldn’t fit it in. It took 3 messages and 10 minutes for them to react (once it took as long as 20 minutes for them to split an order!). By the time I would’ve been already on my way delivering the second order, but there I was waiting. You don’t see the next customer’s address in the app, so it’s impossible to make independent decisions. Finally they removed the order, I delivered the order and had to apologize the customer and explain the situation. Off to the second one, this time on the other side of the city. Again: I am sorry, the order is late, we’ve had problems with the system and it’s really busy.

Then I get a pick up of 6 kms to the exact opposite side of the city – and to get to this restaurant you climb a steep hill and ride it down. I asked the dispatcher if there were no car drivers available, because it’s absolutely stupid for cyclists to ride all the way there.

When Foodora decided to cut the expenses they removed the kilometer subsidies and free parking from cars, which obviously caused their number to decrease. To compensate the deficit, Foodora could’ve created delivery zones – which other cities have – but they didn’t. Long distance deliveries by bike make no sense neither for the couriers nor the customer.

Again, no answer from the dispatcher, so I figure I’d just go because probably they wouldn’t redispatch it anyways. When they finally replied they told me that it was so busy that it’s not possible to give the order to anyone else.

As a freelancer you should be able to refuse orders, but in practice you aren’t allowed to. If you do, they will discipline you and may even terminate your contract. This is an obvious contradiction between freelancer contracts and the demands set for the work.

When I arrived to the restaurant the order was already half an hour late. The delivery went even further. I pedaled nearly 8 kms from the previous customer to the next pick up and drop off. And then back to center, up the hill and down the hill. All in all it was a nice 13,5km task worth of mere 2,2 euros (and maybe 4e from my 7e/h salary).

Last tasks were reasonable and I was lucky to end my shift just when it started raining again.

I am privileged in this matter: when I started working as a courier two years back it wasn’t out of necessity but rather because I had dreamt for a long time to work in a bike-related job – preferably as a courier. For many of us there are no options. I have been able to choose when I work, and when I don’t, and to whom. Some have to take what they can get. The changes are especially harmful for those whose income solely depends on this work. When I started at Foodora they had barely any shifts left for batch 2 where the new couriers would start, so it felt like a lie recruiting us at that point. Right now the situation is better, but who knows what next week looks like… This is precarious work at its finest.

Physical work and carrying a large and sometimes heavy backpack is hard for your body, and you risk getting injured especially when the roads are slippery, when the tired rush-hour drivers are heading home, when pedestrians and cyclists don’t look around, and when you are in a hurry delivering already late orders. I like the independence and limited yet positive interactions with customers and restaurant staff. Sometimes you get a free pizza, sometimes a gift card (like today). Sometimes the restaurant workers are pissed off from seeing you in the wrong place.

The company should realize that its success is dependent on motivated couriers who take pride in doing their work well.

We need respect, we need justice! Foodora take responsibility!