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The struggle is international

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.

Deliveroo couriers strike rally day 2 – central London August 12th 2016. (Steve Easton. Shared under CC license.)

Why I support the campaign? Courier Tyla Haigh

I have worked in the company almost two years, from October 2016 as a freelancer. Back then, shifts were started at the office/rider hub. You could get changed, eat food, drink coffee and socialise. The hub was open all working hours, so for whatever reason, you could access it. Whatsmore, this is where dispatch was located. The fleet managers would be around during office hours, always making sure everything is okay, which was super helpful during those winter months.

May 2017, I was asked to be a rider captain. This is when my contract switched from ‘freelance’ to employed. It meant a lot I was asked, and at the time things were not so bad. But quite soon after this, the tables turned. Shift allocation changed and it became really difficult to gain shifts for freelancers. Dispatch, fleet managers and other roles were not continued, or fired. As a rider captain, we had to start been janitors, letting the riders in and out of the hub at the beginning and end of their shifts. Then soon after, the office/hub was taken away during the autumn/winter months. The overall moral of the workforce was at its lowest, and it was hard.

This is when the rider captains voiced their concerns. We met multiple times to create some basic demands, which we presented to Nordic management. It was a no. But we spoke of laws and human rights and the outcome was, that employee workers (basically rider captain), can access the equipment room but freelancers, no. As by law, the company does not need to provide such essentials for freelance riders. It has been this way ever since. To add, the equipment only has a kettle (provided by a rider), toilet and heating. No cooking or food storage.

But, we kept pushing. Though the equipment room was not an option, we were told that a deal would be made for all riders to have access to multiple coffee shops around the city, were we would have discounted prices, access to toilets and drinking water. This was the best we could do at the time. But, this did not happen and to this day has not happened.

Now the most recent act of Foodora was the pay cut to the freelance riders. Which they may claim was not a cut as (Mon-Fri cyclist pay) went from €8ph, €2 per delivery to, €7ph, €2.20 per delivery. So as you can see, there is a cut and a raise but in no way does it make the pay equivalent to the previous pay model. The workforce knew about this change, they had a month to sign a new contract. If they did not sign, they did not keep their job.

Such companies are taking advantage, as it is not legislated, they can get away with calling someone an entrepreneur, someone who does not get to state their working conditions. This is why I am supporting the campaign! To try for the so called gig economy to be legislated. No one in this day and age should have to work without basic worker rights!

Tyla Haigh, Current Foodora employee, rider captain and ex ‘freelance’ rider.

Why I support the campaign? Bicycle courier Mikko Akkola

There is no reason why bicycle couriers should be outside conventional employment — unless one wants it.

Two years ago, when I started as a freelance bike courier at Foodora, the shift allocation was truly flexible and well managed. The fragment part-time work had the advantages of a part-time job: it was easy to combine the job with studies and individual needs were addressed in a good way. Also the relationship with the management was close and interactive.

A gradually happening change turned the situation on its head. Later, shifts had to be taken when they were offered, so that one would not fall into the bottom category. The only flexibility was that of the worker: people went riding while too tired and even when sick.

We have now in our hands a problem that is wider than one company or one profession. “The new forms of work” are being normalized in many sectors, and usually this change does not benefit the workers. With food deliveries, the question is not solved by switching over to competitor, whose practices as far as I know very similar. I encourage customers to give feedback directly to the company, demands actions from decision makers and to vote with careful thought in the next elections.

I hope that food couriers stay on the streets of Finland. Increasing the appreciation of their work could be one way to improve the working conditions, and that can be done by the customers.

Mikko Akkola, bicycle courier and MA student

Foodora courier tells why he supports the campaign

“As a former ’Freelancer’ and current ‘Rider Captain’ employee at Foodora Finland, I want to give my full support to this campaign which seeks to repeal the recent pay cuts and improve precarious working conditions for freelance ‘delivery partners’ at the company with a set of 5 demands.

During the 15 months I have worked for the company I have seen a consistent decline in the rights and responsibilities afforded to its workers, the majority of whom are of immigrant background. In the past year, this has included the removal of a social space, taking away parking provisions and fuel subsidies for car drivers and, most recently, a deduction in the hourly pay given to its ‘delivery partners’.

In Finland, the majority of the Freelance workers are immigrants, who face substantial entry barriers when seeking employment opportunities. Many rely on the income they make from Foodora in order to survive and provide for their families. The recent changes to working conditions and pay cuts are adversely affecting this vulnerable social group.

The way Foodora treats its workforce is not unique, but closely resembles the business strategy of other food delivery firms in the international gig economy, whereby Freelancers are not considered as employees, despite working conditions which closely resemble that of employment. While this issue is not new in the global context, it is a theme which has not been fully scrutinized in the Finnish setting.

Today workers, academics, cyclists, drivers and concerned citizens are coming together to voice their frustration at developments in the company. There is a responsibility to act to protect a particularly vulnerable section of the Finnish labour market from worsening conditions and ensure that companies treat their staff in adherence of ethics and national laws.

For these reasons, I want to proclaim my public support to the campaign and wish them success in achieving their 5 demands.”

Marcus Nicolson, Foodora Rider and PhD Student
#justice4couriers

Work day of a Foodora Courier

As couriers, just as it usually occurs for any other occupation, we often assume people know a lot about what we do, so we only explain very specific details or events, I would like to bring clarity into what a Foodora bike rider does:

To begin our shift we gear up and head for the center of Helsinki, we need to be within a specific area and in a 15 min time window prior to our scheduled time to be able to start the shift, then we wait for orders, sometimes orders come immediately one after another, sometimes we wait for hours, sometimes you wish for a break as you may get tired from going up and down from one extreme of the city to the other, sometimes you would really like to have more orders instead of just waiting there fidgeting with your phone, as they factor as about 40% of your total income.

When you get an order your clock starts ticking, you are timed for every possible data indicator the system can get through your phone, time to get to the restaurant, waiting for the food to be ready, bringing the food to the client’s proximity and, finally, delivering the food to the client after accessing the building and walking up the stairs if needed.

New order, clock begins ticking again, this information is then used to compare your performance to the rest of the freelancers, it differentiates us according to a batch system those with better KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) have good chances for acquiring shifts – which are limited and booked every Wednesday for the upcoming week – perhaps even suit them smoothly into their schedule; on the other hand, riders with lower KPIs will usually pick any shift they can get, often having to reschedule personal events, there is also the chance of not finding any shift as all of them have already been taken, your weekly income is zero, without shifts you have little chances to find shifts next week. It is pretty logical, effective system, however, Is this an acceptable business relation between human beings?

Anonymous Foodora Courier

It’s not just about Foodora or couriers, but about worker rights

Most of the couriers work under freelance-contracts, which means that they are themselves responsible for pensions, insurances and for maintaining their own bikes or cars, while having no sick pay or any guarantees against illness or accidents. More so, Foodora removed recently also the rider space, where couriers could change, warm up, eat, go to the toilet and repair their bikes. And in case you’re wondering, yes, couriers ride the year round in Finland.

Even though the couriers work under obligations equivalent to those of employees, by keeping them as freelancers Foodora externalizes risks and costs of production to them, while taking no responsibility for its workers. The Foodora couriers are no independent entrepreneurs or “delivery partners”, as Foodora puts it, in any meaningful sense of the term.

This is not something new that the so-called #gigeconomy has invented, but a return to early capitalism, where workers had no or minimal rights, benefits and guarantees. Those rights that we now take for granted were won through long struggles. So don’t let capital to circumvent them by using freelance contracts.

This not only about couriers or just about companies trying to break mutually agreed rules of employment. This is about a large legal and political-economic question of how work is organized. If one employer can externalize costs by circumventing responsibilities with forced sham entrepreneurship, others will follow. And those others are also your employers.

Because an injury to one is an injury to all.

Ex-Foodora Courier, Helsinki Bike Messenger and Postdoc Researcher Tuomas Tammisto

The campaign begins: Foodora take responsibility! Justice for couriers!

Foodora couriers and drivers in cooperation with Vapaa syndikaatti and Vastavoima launch a campaign to repeal recent pay cuts and improve working conditions at Foodora in Finland. Our demands are as follows:

1) Repeal the recent pay cuts
2) Fair and transparent shift allocation and possibility for guaranteed hours
3) Reinstate the rider space for couriers and drivers
4) Equipment compensation and insurance against accidents and illness
5) Possibility for an employment contract

We formally start the campaign today on Thursday September 6 by handing our demands in person to Foodora at the Foodora HQ in Helsinki (Kaivokatu 10) at 14:00. During the hand-over we will organize a small demonstration in front of Foodora’s office, read out our demands and courier experiences.

We welcome the press, potential allies and anyone interested to participate or contact us by email at foodoravastuuseen@gmail.com.

The press releases of the campaign can be found here. If you want to interview couriers, please contact us via email.