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

Foodora bike couriers go on strike in Norway

In Norway 102 Foodora couriers organized with the Norwegian Transport Union (NTF) will go on strike on Tuesday 21.8. after negotiations over a collective agreement with Foodora failed.

Jørn Eggum, a represetative of NTF said that a collective agreement guarantees pay and rights of employees and when an employer refuses it, industrial action is necessary. In a comment to the news site NRK, Eggum said that he was surprised and disappointed over the failed agreement, because negotiations had been conducted in good spirit.

We Wolt and Foodora couriers support the strike by our Norwegian colleagues and hope that they will get the collective agreement.

We want to point out that all Foodora couriers in Norway are employees and the company is the market leader there. This shows that there is no reason why Wolt and Foodora couriers in Finland could not be employed and still work flexibly. As we have said in the past, the companies only want freelancer agreements, because they use them to circumvent employer responsibilities and to shift risk and costs to the couriers

We couriers demand that the companies which treat us as employees also grant us employee rights!

Foodora and Wolt don’t pay for their couriers’ parking space

HS published an article on July 30th about food couriers driving on Iso Roobertinkatu, that is meant to be a pedestrian street.

The food courier companies Foodora and Wolt deliver their customers food from restaurants in the city center, but don’t pay their couriers’ parking tickets that they would need for paid parking space. This is how companies practically force their couriers to perform parking violations in the city centre. This is one factor in problems in Iso Roobertinkatu.

So Foodora and Wolt are a part of the parking problem. But instead of fixing its own policy, Wolt is trying to put the blame on its couriers in HS article. The company also asks for the town of Helsinki to offer them free parking space. The company doesn’t want to even pay for its own couriers’ parking space, but once again asks for economic support from the taxpayers.

Pizza restaurants exploited by platform companies

suomeksi / Facebook

Yet another sad example of how in the platform economy—as it is organized now—only the owners win.

Currently, the Finnish food delivery business is a duopoly controlled by Delivery Hero (Pizza-online and Foodora).

For small restaurant entrepreneurs takeaway and home delivieries are in practice only possible through these companies, because the traditional form of ringing the restaurant and ordering is overtaken by easier and more convenient mobile apps. The two market leaders can quite freely determine the prices that the restaurant entrepreneurs can either pay or be totally excluded from the home delivery business that is now run through apps.

When the same time, Foodora and Wolt keep their couriers as sham entrepreneurs and thus outside of normal labour rights, we can legitimately ask if in the restaurant+couriers+paltform company equation are any other winners than the platform company.

In a fair situation all three would win. Because of this we give our full support to the struggle of pizzeria entrepreneurs!

Our comment to ministers

suomeksi / Facebook

Today the Minister of Ecnomic Affairs Katri Kulmuni (Center) and Ministry of Employment Timo Harakka (Social democrat) presented the new government programme in the Kontula library. Our campaign reprsentatives told that in the platform economy couriers and many others are excluded from traditional labour rights with false freelance agreements and asked if the government had already concrete suggestions how to prevent the masking of employment as something else, as the government programme states. Minister Harakka told that the government is aware of the problem and will definitely attempt to solve it.

Our campaign wants to emphasize that food couriers and other in a similar position work in conditions that fulfill the criteria of employment and hence they should be treated as employees. Due to this, we demand that couriers are given the option to sign employment contracts if they so wish. In our view, the current legislation needs to be overseen and executed more strictly and also changed, for example by addiding the employment assumption into it.”

From active silence to willing cooperation

suomeksi / Facebook

About a year has passed since Foodora cut the pay of its couriers with an unilateral announcement and laid off those couriers, who did not agree to the pay cuts. Because the pay cuts were preceded by a series of decisions that worsened the working conditions of couriers, they were for many the last straw. Soon after the pay cuts couriers started organizing and this campaign is a result of it.

When we started our campaign, we gave Foodora about two weeks to answer our demands, but we got no reply. Since then we have repeatedly proposed a meetings and negotiations, but Foodora has not replied to us or even mentioned our campaign by name. Foodora however replied to the media, that they “discuss” issues directly with their couriers, which was a weird answer, since our campaign was started by Foodora’s own couriers. In the winter Foodora made however its first concessions: they re-opened the break spaces they had closed a year and a half earlier and issued a winter bonus, which however does not make up for the pay cuts, as it is paid only for winter months. Now, almost a year after the start of our campaign, Foodora has commented one of our social media statements. After Wolt couriers joined our campaign, we have met with the leadership of Wolt and told them our demands. We also said we are willing to negotiate, but a new meeting has not been arranged. We have however announced that we are ready to negotiate at any point.

The approach by the companies, and especially Foodora, towards our campaign has clearly changed. The companies have shifted from active silence to seeming concessions and even direct discussion with us. Even though we have not achieved our immediate demands, namely the improvement of the working conditions of couriers, much has happened since the start of our campaign. First, established unions have taken an interest in our campaign: different union branches have shown their support to us, the Service Union United has given education to our members and the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions has proposed that the employer assumption is added to the law. Second, decision makers in Finland and elsewhere have become aware of the problems of the platform economy and proposed solutions. The EU parliament recently passed a law that obligates member countries to ensure the rights of workers in atypical, gig and part-time employment. The new government programme in Finland states that the masking of an employment relation into something else must be prevented. Third, our demands and notions that these problems affect not only couriers, but other workers as well, have become a part of public discussion. And finally, couriers over the world organize themselves and co-operate internationally to improve working conditions.

In other words, the pressure towards platform companies has grown stronger and the public opinion is starting to shift to the realization that labour rights must be secured also in the so called gig economy. This also explains the change in the approach of the companies: our demands cannot be sidelined anymore and the companies have to address them in some way. This change of approach resembles almost exactly the pattern in which other industries have responded to criticism. Researchers Peter Benson and Stuart Kirsch have shown how industries that cause major harm to the environment and society, such as the tobacco and mining industries, have responded to public critique. The reactions of companies have often followed the same three-phased pattern. First, the companies simply deny the existence of the harm they have produced. For example, tobacco companies claimed for a long time that smoking does not cause cancer. In the second phase, when the existence of the harm cannot anymore be credibly denied, the companies admit the limited existence of it and make superficial or seeming concessions, which are mainly aimed to reduce consumer concerns. The bringing of low-nicotine cigarettes to the market is an example of this.

Finally, when it is clear that the society will address the harm and most problably begins to regulate the industries, the companies admit the full extent of the harm and seek to present themselves as co-operative and responsible partners in the solution of the problem. Their aim is to affect any new legislation in ways beneficial to them. For example, in North America and Europe the tobacco companies have taken part in different public health programmes, but at the same time have tried to lobby so that the advertising of tobacco would not be significantly restricted.

The reactions towards our campaign have followed almost exactly this same pattern: first Foodora did not even mention our campaign by name or address our demands, but eventually, after enough pressure, it made its first concessions. Opening the break spaces in Helsinki was important, but it does not address the problems of the couriers working conditions, which are mainly caused by their freelancer status and low pay. The concessions were superficial. Wolt has been more wise in its approach to our campaign and it wanted to meet our representatives, even though there has been no concrete negotiations over the solutions we proposed. It is clear that the political and public pressure has reached the level that in the near future the problems of the gig economy will be addressed. Thus it is highly likely that both of the companies will start proposing their own solutions, which aim primarily to ensure a beneficial outcome for the companies.

The aim of this text has been to spell out that our struggle and the actions of the companies do not happen in a vacuum and they are not separeted from other social and political processes. As we have noted, sham entrepreneurship and the circumvention of labour rights with freelance agreements is not restricted to food couriers, but is reality on other sectors as well, including cleaning, early delivery and even translation. Similarly, how companies react to public critique depends largely on the wider atmosphere and the political situation. As the poor working conditions of couriers have caused a public outcry and as the new government has decided to prevent the circumvention of labour laws, the platform companies are more willing to enter into dialogue. The public and decision-makers should thus be aware of these dynamics and when they seek to improve the position of workers, it is important that it happens on the terms of the workers and the wider society, not on the conditions of the companies.

References

Benson, Peter & Stuart Kirsch 2010. Capitalism and the Politics of Resignation. Current Anthropology 51:4, 459–486.

Full support to LGBTQIA couriers, no to pinkwashing!

suomeksi / Facebook

As the Pride week is in full swing, people and groups across the board fly the rainbow flag in support of LGBTQIA rights. That is good and we too want to show our support for minorities. However, also platform companies, such as Foodora, Deliveroo and UberEATS proclaim to support Pride with their logos overlaid with the rainbow flag.

These companies circumvent labour legislation by keeping their couriers as freelancers and exclude them from worker protections, such as sick leave, pensions and insurances and cut the pay of the couriers at will. Before the companies stop exploiting their workers and start treating them fairly, their support of Pride amounts to cheap pinkwashing. Workers’ rights are human rights as well as are LGBTQIA rights.

We want to remember Pride as a political demonstration for LGBTQIA rights, not as a marketing gimmick. On Pride week, we want to show our appreciation for our gay, queer, transgender and non-binary colleagues and state that we keep on struggling for all couriers regardless of background now and in the future.

No More Courier Deaths!

suomeksi / Facebook

We are Jorge. We are Julien. We are Pablo. We are Maurizio. We are José. We are Alberta. We are Luis. We are Franck. We are Kuan. We are Su. We are Ramiro. We are Artyk. We are Pujan. We are Burgao. We are Karim.

Only during the last year, at least 12 food couriers have died at work. These are only the deaths that have come to our attention. When we mapped work related accidents among the Transnational Federation of Couriers, we also noted a number of permanent injuries, such as loss of limbs or eyes.

These are not merely traffic accidents, sudden illnesses or acts of violence, but work-related incidents, which are a result of the poor and piecemeal pay, which forces couriers to ride longer, faster and harder. They are a result of the lack of sick leave and insurances and the fact that couriers cannot afford to lose their means of work, for which they themselves pay. When a courier gets injured or killed at work, the companies do not have to take any responsibility. The courier pays for possible medical and repair expenses and loses their income from the time they are incapacitated, if they are lucky enough not to lose their lives.

We couriers do not accept that we do the hardest and most dangerous work with the poorest pay, yet are the only ones in these companies without even employment contracts. We mourn our killed colleaugues and comrades, but we als organize and work together from Finland to Chile and from Toronto to Hong Kong, because solidarity knows no borders.

No more courier deaths! Precarity kills! Justice for couriers!



Good news in the government programme

suomeksi / Facebook

In Finland, the government negotations for a new center-left coalition government have been completed. The negotiations were led by the Social Democratic party between the Center party, the Greens, the Left Alliance and the Swedish People’s party. The resulting government programme has been made public and it contains some good news for us food couriers and other “fake freelancers”. The programme states:

In order to reduce the uncertainty of working life, the concept of employment will be specified in the labour legislation so that the masking of an employment relation into something else will be prevented.

Government programme 2019: 137 [our translation]

We Foodora and Wolt couriers have since the last fall demanded that we will be given a chance to sign employment contracts. Our campaign started after Foodora cut their couriers’ pay last summer with an unilateral agreement. Wolt had already issued pay cuts earlier, and as a consequence, also Wolt couriers joined the campaign. Both Foodora and Wolt can at any time cut the pay of their couriers, since the couriers work under freelance-contracts. Because of them, the couriers have no protection against arbitrary pay cuts or lay-offs, a possibility for sick leave, insurances, holidays or any other protection or worker right. Despite this, the work of couriers fulfills the criteria of employment, because the couriers are not in an independent position.

It is good that the programme addresses the issue of false freelance contracts. It is unsustainable that some companies distort competition and tread the working conditions of their workers by circumventing the labour legislation and dodging their responsibilities as employers. We have asked both Foodoran and Wolt to negotiate with us over our demands. We think the companies would do well to start the negotiations now, because our demands are more than reasonable and with the new government programme, it is high time to negotiate.

Four deaths in four weeks

suomeksi / Facebook

The last days have been grim for couriers. We told how last Saturday (25.5.) a bike 21-year old Glovo courier named Pujan died after being hit by a garbage truck in Barcelona. Yesterday we heard that on Friday the 24th of May a car driver ran over a 19-year old UberEATS courier and fled the scene in Champs-sur-Marne near Paris. The courier was hospitalized and declared brain dead on Tuesday. On Tuesday the 28th of May, bike thiefs beat a Deliveroo courier to death during his shift after the courier had tried to stop them from stealing his bike. Three food couriers have died within four days in Europe. When you count the Yandex courier who died of exhaustion during his shift in St. Petersburg, there have been four deaths in the last four weeks.

All work in traffic is risky and bike couriers are particularly vulnerable. Therefor couriers need to have insurances, sick leave and a decent pay, for which they do not need to endanger themselves. The food delivery companies like Foodora, Wolt, Deliveroo, Glovo, UberEATS and Yandex do not offer any of these to their couriers, but circumvent labor legislation through freelance agreements. In addition, the pay is often so small and tied to the number of deliveries so that couriers would ride or drive more, faster and longer.

Such a system harms couriers—and as we have seen, also kills them. The courier in St. Petersburg died of exhaustion, because the pay is so small that in order to get a decent day’s worth of pay, they have to work 10–12 hours. The courier in London was beaten to death, because he could not afford to lose his means of work, which he himself pays for. A collission with a car can incapacitate a bike courier for weeks, and if that happens, the platform companies leave the courier on their own deivces. They just lose their income for the time they recover. If they are lucky enough not get killed in the accident.


edit: We have corrected the information regarding the state of the courier in Champs-sur-Marne.

Correction: we have just learned from our colleagues in France that the courier in has not died. As a result of the accident, the courier was declared brain dead on Tuesday, but he is still alive and his family hopes for the best.
We wish all the best to our colleague in Champs-sur-Marne and express our sympathy to his family and friends.