A week ago on Friday 26th of April, our campaign representatives met with representatives of Wolt. We had constructive preliminary discussions with the Wolt leadership about the terms and conditions of couriers, our demands and Wolt points of view. We are vey pleased that Wolt representatives agreed to meet with us and we hope that we can continue our dialogue over the working conditions of couriers. We also want to note that despite repeated requests, Foodora Finland has not agreed to meet us.
We want improvements to the conditions and terms of work of couriers and especially the possibility for an employment contract to those couriers who want it.
On May Day, Foodora couriers in Toronto started the Foodsters United campaign to improve working conditions. We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in Canada and across the world. Together we will win!
Fooroda Finland has steadfastly refused to negotiate with us, and we remind the company, that now is a good time to start.
On the 16th of April, Artyk Orozaliev, a 21-year-old bike courier working for the food delivery company Yandex Food, died of exhaustion during his shift. In the post-mortem report doctors state that Orozaliev died of a heart attack, possibly caused by overstress. Another Yandex courier, who worked at the same time as Orozaliev, tells the newspaper Novaja Gazeta, that Orozaliev’s shift had lasted for 10 consecutive hours and he told he was not feeling well. During their shift, Orozaliev’s colleague went to a shop to purchase cigarettes, and when he returned, he found Orozaliev collapsed by his bike, dead. Orozaliev’s family members tell that the athletic young man did not have any heart issues prior to his death.
The death of a colleauge has sparked outrage among Russian food couriers, who note that in order to earn 1 000–1 500 Russian rubles a day (13–20 euro), they have to work 12 to 14 hours. According to the couriers, the distances are long, couriers often do not have time to hold breaks and the orders are heavy. In addition, Yandex fines its couriers 500 rubles (ca. 7 euro) for coming late to a shift and 1 500 rubles (ca. 20 euros) for missing a shift. To add insult to a fatal injury, on the day following his death, Orozaliev received such a fine for missing his shift on that day.
The tragic, and completely unnecessary, death of our colleague Artyk Orozaliev show why couriers need minimum security, decent pay and fair working conditions. When the food delivery companies do not provide their couriers with sick leave or insurances, deny them basic worker rights by “freelance contracts” and pay them at piece-meal rates to push them to work harder and harder, injuries, accidents and even deaths are only a question of time. Food couriers have died during their shifts in accidents in Italy and France, and now a young courier in Russia has been literally worked to death.
On this May day, we demand justice for couriers and all the workers.
We warmly welcome all couriers, allies and people who wish to learn more about the campaign to Romu & Random (Satamakatu 3) on 20th of April at 15-18!
Program 15:00-15:30 Beginning and hanging out 15:30-16:00 Presentations 1) Jojo: Campaign basics 2) Tuomas: What we have done and what we will do 16:00-17:00 Discussion and Q&A 17:00-17:30 Lauri: Live music 17:30-18:00 Hanging out and the end
The food couriers of Foodora and Wolt are at the forefront in the ongoing struggle about the ways in which work is done as well as the position and rights of those who perform the labour. The platform economy is already in use among other sectors in home cleaning, personal assistance, newspaper delivery and even in industry. The common denominator here is the attempt by the commissioner of work to assign the platform worker the obligations of an employee and the risk of an entrepreneur. The platform company thus gets to pick the cherries off the cake, while those who perform the work at their mercy without the protection assigned to employees.
For platform workers it is extremely challenging to start to demand better pay, working conditions or just being critical towards the commissioner of work. The platform workers can be fired without any reasons as they are not protected by employment contracts and labour legislation. The pay can be cut in half without negotiations with the employees. In fact, there are not any employees, just a group of private entrepreneurs. But to talk about entrepreneurship in the case of the likes of Foodora and Wolt is grotesque, as the couriers work under the supervision of companies and according to terms and schedules set by the companies–just like any other employee. To be sure, the work of few other employees are controlled and tracked as closely as that of food couriers. When you log into the system, the commissioner of work knows exactly and all the time where you and what you do. The couriers are ranked according to how fast they deliver the food from the restaurnt to the customer. The ranking system, which places the courier in a given category, react also to absences due to illness and missed shifts. These lead, via the algorithm, to a lower ranking. Those who fall into a lower category are not offered the “good gigs”, where the food is possible to be delivered quickly to the customer.
It seems the main function of the ranking system is to make the workers compete with each other over who gets the best rankings. This allows the company to dodge criticism, even though its decisions would be grossly unfair. The couriers see rarely each other and even less rarely have they time or the opportunity to discuss work-related matters without surveillance of the company. This of course benefits the companies, because without the working community and its collective power, the labour force can rarely organise significant resistance—or even discuss the possibility of it.
Is this the most common form of commissioning work in the future labour market? If I were a capitalist wanting to succeed, I certainly would seek to take advantage of a system that circumvents the employment contracts and laws set to protect the worker. As a side benefit, the traditional labour union movement becomes slowly marginalized, because in the platform economy the interests of “entrepreneur-partners” cannot be protected with traditional means—because there is nothing to protect. Even if a new platform innovation may be hip and cool in an event like SLUSH and even if decision-makers may be dazzled by them, the idea behind them is centuries old: about the ability of capitalism to renew itself and find new means and loopholes to maximise profits. Despite the new tricks, the game is old: creating profit for shareholders.
There is however hope. Throughout Europe, those working in the platform economy and especially food couriers have started to organise themselves and have began to publicly demand their rights. In Finland the Justice4couriers group began to campaign against Foodora in the fall of 2018 to repeal the paycuts issued earlier in the summer, to get break spaces, transparency into pay models and for the possibility to get employment contracts, if they want one. The campaign gained immediately much attention in the media, but Foodora has not to this day answered the demands issued by the couriers or agreed to talk with the campaign. It looks like the strategy chosen by Foodora will cost the company dearly. Recently, also Wolt was issued a request to talk with the campaign representatives.
The differences between employees and entrepreneurs will certainly be scrutinized in the future in courts—as has already happened in several other countries. This is a good thing, but it does not help the freelancer who now barely makes the ends meet, in constant uncertainty and without the protection of intersts. The court cases may take several years; especially if the case is dealt in different court sintances.
I cannot see any other way to get improvements, except to keep organising and spread it to other sectors in which workers are forced to be freelancers. Even if it is now risky to come forward and speak up publicly, the risk becomes the smaller the more people in similar positions mobilize themselves. Acts of solidarity given to labour struggles in other industries also ensures support when you yourself need it. The traditional unions and the wide range of activists would do a great service if they started to publicly and loudly to support the Justice4couriers campaign. Spreading posters, boycotting the companies until they promise to change their procedures, demonstrations, support gigs, sharing of the campaign material on social media… There are ways if there is will.
All the sham entrepreneurs of the world—unite! Don’t moan, organise!
Matti Mamia is a regional officer of the union JHL, a member of Vastavoima and an activist in the Justice4couriers campaign.
During the initial phase of our campaign in August 2018, we organized with fellow couriers, crafted our demands to Foodora, wrote texts explaining our demands and set up our campaign web pages. We then decided to hand out the demands publicly to Foodora by holding a demonstration outside the Foodora office in Helsinki and sent a press release the day before to the media. Journalists from Helsingin sanomat, the biggest daily newspaper in Finland, came to the demonstration, interviewed us, Foodora managers and union lawyers and wrote a relatively long article about it. After this article, other news media have written about the campaign as well. (For news coverage, see our Materials page.)
We have campaigned very actively on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, where we share texts in which we explain the issues we are trying to solve and try to pressure the companies to negotiate and improve working conditions—for example by commenting on their social media advertisements. This is also a way of trying to get the public involved and try to get the issues into public discussion. We know we will not win this through the social media, but as a grassroots campaign, publicity and public discussion are one of the biggest leverages we have.
We have also argued that this is not just about food couriers, but about a larger question of employers trying to circumvent labor legislation and that this issues needs to be addressed structurally. We have received support and endorsements from (mostly left and green) MPs and through them, we were invited to give an expert statement on work in the platform economy at a hearing of the parliamentary committee on employment and equality. In terms of trying to affect the structures, this is about as successful as a small campaign like ours can be.
We engage also in direct action, such as demonstrations, handing out flyers and gluing posters. These are equally important tactics in trying to make the public aware about our campaign and its issues. Just as this campaign is not only about food couriers, but about how work and worker rights are organized, there is no one single level that is the “most important”, but we must act through the media, by addressing decision-makers and directly on the streets, where we work.
We have been invited quite regularly to different events, such as the Shadow Book Fair, to talk about our campaign and we usually use the opportunity—except for electoral campaign events of any individual candidate. (It’s election season now and we are not affiliated with any party.)
We hold meetings among the campaign group every other week and try to get more couriers—both food-delivery and ‘traditional’ couriers—involved. After we started our campaign against Foodora, also Wolt couriers contacted us and joined and we expanded the campaign to deal with Wolt as well. Helping couriers to get organize is however also difficult: the turn-over of the workforce in the food delivery business is very high, many do not regard courier work as something they will be doing for a long time and many, especially immigrants, who depend on the income, very justly fear about losing their job, if they speak out or are active in the campaign, because as freelancers they can be fired at will. We have organized our campaign so that freelancers can be active anonymously. However, many freelancers have spoken to the media and in our events also publicly and openly.
Finally, we are been in contact with similar campaigns in Europe and took part in a courier union conference in Brussels last year (video, video). There we took part in founding the Transnational Federeation of Couriers, an umbrella organization for these kinds of unions and campaigns. The TFC is still being modeled and built up, but the actives of the different unions, campaigns and collectives are regularly in touch with each other and last December we managed to hold an international action day where several groups held events/strikes on the same day in different countries.
This is the first part of a two-part text in which we recount some basics of our campaign, namely how the campaign started, who we are, what our relation to other actors is and how we operate. In this part we tell how our campaign started and who we are.
Our campaign is an independent and self-organized campaign initiated and run by couriers. Actives of a syndicalist unofficial union (Vapaa syndikaatti (‘The Free/Independent Syndicate’) were founding members of the campaign as some couriers had contacted them. Later, actives of an independent union/labor organization Vastavoima (‘Counterpower’) joined us. The majority of the campaign members and actives are however couriers.
The campaign started in the summer of 2018 when Foodora unilaterally cut the fees it pays to its freelance couriers. This caused couriers in the city of Turku to go public, especially after one of them lost their job as they refused to sign the new agreement that reduced the pay of couriers. Couriers in the city of Tampere meanwhile contacted the Vapaa syndikaatti and couriers in Helsinki (we knew each other from bicycle related circles). Helsinki couriers and Vapaa syndikaatti members started the campaign and right from the start we got in contact with the Turku couriers, who had their own self-organized groups. In the fall of 2018, the first Wolt couriers contacted us and wanted to join the campaign. Since then both Wolt drivers and bike couriers have been actively involved.
After our campaign took off and gained initial traction, the established Service Union United (PAM), member of the Finnish Central Organization of Trade Unions (SAK) became interested and since then we have had regular meetings with them, we have worked together and plan to do so in the future. In practice, they have looked into the legal side of the issue as they have the expertise and resources. They have also followed our campaign and written articles about it as well as given training about labor rights to employed couriers.
We (couriers and campaign actives) work as a campaign rather than an union, but active couriers founded the Finnish Courier Collective (FCC) so that some of the energy and organization would hopefully be retained after this campaign inevitably ends. The FCC isn’t, yet at least, a registered organization or an union, but we are thinking about negotiating insurance deals for self-employed couriers, establishing emergency funds and such. The FCC is for all couriers, be they employed, fake freelancers or genuinely self-employed and whether they work in the food delivery industry or other parts of the transport sector.
We have noted several times that the main problem for the couriers at Foodora and Wolt is that they have no employment contracts, but work under freelance agreements. This agreement shifts the riks of entrepreneurship to the workers and helps the employees to circumvent their legal responsibilities.
In practice this means that the Foodora and Wolt couriers pay out of their fees themselves the side expenses of work, such as pensions, possible insurances, their gear and the maintenance of their vehicles. Maintaining a bike used in work is expensive, not to speak of cars and fuel. As freelancers, the couriers do not have the right to sick pay, they have no protection against termination and their pay can be cut with unilateral announcements—as both Foodora and Wolt have done.
Both companies argue that the freelance-agreements provide “flexibility” and claim that this benefits the couriers, who can work freely and do not have to commit to fixed weekly hours. This argument has two mistakes: first, flexibility and the security of employment do not rule each other out and second, couriers in the platform economy are not allowed to work freely. In this text we explain why.
Flexibility, meaning that the workers does not need to commit to do, or the employer to offer, shifts, can be achieved with zero hour contracts. This is a common arrangement for example in retail, where employers can offer shifts to workers with very little forewarning and where the workers do not need to accept the shifts. This arrangement provides the flexibility that Foodora and Wolt say benefts especially youths and students. At the same time it provides basic security for the employee: the employer pays the side expenses, the employee has a right to sick pay and they have the necessary insurances. In other words, the employers bears the minimal responsibility of their workers. Foodora and Wolt do not want this, but they attempt to reduce costs by shifting the expenses to the couriers.
The companies also argue that freelancer contracts give the workers the freedom to work independently. Someone who is truly self-employed chooses when and how to work. The couriers of wolt and Foodora however are during their shifts under the tight control of the companies. During their shifts, the couriers cannot decline orders given to them by the dispatchers (actual persons or algorithms). The couriers must ask for breaks and the dispatchers decide when they can take them. For example in the attached screenshot, a Foodora dispatcher tells the courier that they cannot have a lunch break at the moment. Also Wolt dispatchers carefully monitor the location of the courier and directs where the courier needs to be.
One Wolt courier told that the surveillance is so precise that when three Wolt couriers were in the same place waiting for orders, the dispatcher phoned them, asked if they were having a meeting and told them to disperse and wait for orders in separate locations. Foodora for example explicitly forbids the couriers to smoke, because it runs counter to their “brand image”. This is not the freedom of self-employment, but work work conducted from a dependent position and under the control of others, namely an arrangement that fulfils the criteria of employment.
“Flexibility” in the case of Foodora and Wolt means only that the couriers must act like employees without rights, while the companies shift the risk of entrepreneurship to couriers and deny them the freemdom of actual entrepreneurs.
The drivers and bicycle couriers (henceforth only “couriers”) of Foodora and Wolt work under freelancer-contracts. This means that they are not in the formal position of an employee, and hence have not the minimal security, such as protections against summary lay-offs, sick pay or insurances, and other employment rights. For example in accident cases the couriers are left on their own devices with not support from the company. The couriers receive no salary, but gross pay, out of which they pay themselves the side expenses, such as pensions, and the maintenance of their vehicles, fuel, phones and gear with the exception of backpacks.
Freelancer couriers work however under conditions that fulfill the criteria of an employment relation. The companies set the time and duration of the shifts and oversees that couriers start and end their shifts on time. The couriers are not allowed to decline orders during their shifts, the dispatchers, who are company employees, direct the couriers in their work, the companies define the customers and the working area of the couriers and the couriers cannot negotiate the delivery prices. In the case of Foodora, the freelance couriers do exactly the same work as the minority of employed couriers. Wolt has never offered the possibility of being employed as courier.
Food couriers are employees
The work of the food couriers fulfills the criteria of an employment relation, but the couriers have only the responsibilities of an employee without the associate rights. Conversely, the freelance couriers have all the risks of the self-employed, but not the freedom of a genuine freelancer. For example those couriers who work as genuine entrepreneurs can refuse orders that are not financially feasible and define their own working practices. Foodora and Wolt couriers do not have this option.
1. Existing labor legislation in Finland must be overseen and implemented more strictly so that employer responsibilities are not circumvented with sham entrepreneurship or fake freelancing.
2. Legislation must be changed: our campaign supports the suggestion of an employment assumption. The default must be that those who work for companies are employees and when this is not the case, it is up to the buyer of work to show that it is not an employment relation.
3. The position of genuine freelancers and self-employed on the labor market must be improved. They should have the right to collective negotiations of working conditions and social security must be improved to cover different forms of work.
These three suggestions are not mutually exclusive, but mutually reinforcing. In many sectors, such as in journalism, translation and transport, there are genuine freelancers, whose position must be improved. We call for making genuine self-employment easier and prevent the abuse of freelance contracts to circumvent employer responsibilities.
We acknowledge that Foodora and Wolt provide low-threshold entry into the labor market, especially for those who may have difficulties in finding employment due to the language barrier for instance. We by no means want these companies to fail, we like our work as couriers and we acknowledge its social importance. However, we want fair working conditions especially for those who otherwise are in a vulnerable position. Courier work is physically demanding and dangerous, we do not demand the impossible, but the same rights as other workers.
Today we have achieved our first immediate aim as Foodora announced that it will provide break spaces to its couriers. Couriers need brake spaces, especially in countries like Finland, where the weather conditions can be tough.
Foodora Finland shutdown courier break spaces in Helsinki the late autumn of 2017 and in Tampere a year later, just before winter. Back then, couriers protested this measure and tried to address it internally by telling the Foodora management, that couriers absolutely need break space, but to no avail. When we started our campaign a year later, we demanded that Foodora reinstates the break spaces, and now finally, during the second winter with no place to change, eat or go to the toilet, Foodora gave in to our demand. We are confident that getting back the break spaces was a result of courier campaigning.
We are very pleased that Foodora has taken this step toward its couriers in Helsinki. We hope that Foodora will provide break spaces to couriers in other cities as well and that other crucial issues, such as the lack of insurances, sick pay and employment rights, will be addressed as well. We hope that Foodora will start negotiations with its couriers to improve working conditions at the company. We also want to remind that Wolt, the other platform courier company, has never had a break space for its couriers, who need one as well. In this matter, Wolt should follow the example of Foodora.
This victory also shows that couriers, who on their own are in a precarious position, are strong when they come together and organize!