Deliveroo workers across London are taking part in strike action, Joe Odell reports from the picket line
Deliveroo couriers have been engaging in strike action against the imposition of a new contract that will see the introduction of piecemeal rates that could bring their pay way under the national minimum wage. Currently Deliveroo couriers get a flat rate of £7.20 p/h plus £1 per drop and any tips. The new contract, which is being trialled across some areas of London, will scrap the hourly wage and replace it with a piecemeal rate of £3.75 per drop. Raheem Ahmed, 18 from Edgware Road and on the picket today, claimed that under the new scheme he would get just £45 for a 12 hour shift as most drivers only average around 1 delivery per hour.
The way in which Deliveroo can get away with the super-exploitation of their workers is that they hide behind the fiction that those who work for them are self-employed to which Deliveroo is merely a client. This means that as well as not having to pay statuary holiday or sickness pay, Deliveroo don't have to bear the cost of any overheads which instead fall on the shoulders of their workers. The Deliveroo couriers have to pay for their own equipment such as bikes, mopeds, petrol, smartphones, internet access and insurance etc.
Raheem Ahmed, a striker, stated that in order to even start working for Deliveroo he had to fork out £1100 for a moped and insurance to which he is now in debt for, as well as paying Deliveroo a £150 deposit for a uniform, courier box, and a charging deck. With the introduction of piecemeal rates, Raheem's petrol costs will increase substantially as he tries to keep his head above water by making as many drops as possible.
When asked whether he felt like he was self-employed, Raheem replied “When I have to wear a uniform with the companies logo on it, work to a weekly rota, or be disciplined if I turn off my phone or miss a drop during a shift, it certainly doesn't feel like i'm self-employed. At the end of the day, I work for Deliveroo and therefore expect, at the very least, to get the minimum wage with holiday and sick pay”.
The official demands of the couriers is that Deliveroo pay a London living wage of £9.20 an hour plus £1 per drop and the retention of any tips. This certainly doesn't seem to be too much to ask of a company that has very little capital outlays and was valued at £1bn last year. After all, without the couriers, what is Deliveroo? A flashy app that links a buyer and seller in the market place. Deliveroo is symptomatic of the wider gig economy, along with companies such as Uber and Airbnb, in which advanced technology is used to link up buyers and sellers whilst parasitically siphoning off wealth in the process without actually creating any value.
The work practices of Deliveroo is emblematic of the British service economy which relies on a flexible workforce, zero-hour contracts and low union participation to ensure high profit rates. In today's austerity Britain, the capitalist need no longer even provide the tools to her or his workers, pay them sick or holiday pay or the minimum wage, as long h/she can somehow disguise their exploited employees and dress them up as dynamic and autonomous entrepreneurs. In many ways the business practices of such companies mirrors that of Tory austerity, which sees a race to the bottom as workers pay fall whilst their cost of living of sky rockets. It is within this wider context that the Deliveroo strike is so important and should give confidence to precarious workers up and down the country.
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