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!

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

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