As Deliveroo drivers take strike action, a cycle courier explains the reality of precarious work
It’s the best job in the world and the worst at the same time. Being a cycle courier in London is a mixture of highs and lows. On a good day, you feel like you’re flying. Dashing from point to point, each delivery increasing your pay check for that day. On others it can feel like the most pointless form of employment, standing by in the city watching the office workers come and go and wondering if you will make enough money to earn over minimum wage this week.
There is no such thing as sick pay, no paid holidays and certainly none of the benefits that come with most forms of employment. As you are employed as an “independent contractor” the company only has to pay you for the deliveries that you do and isn’t required to pay you for breaks, uniform or overtime. In fact, most companies will charge you a sum to rent branded equipment such as bags and jerseys. If you are caught not using them, it often results in disciplinary action.
If you read the spiel that the corporate courier companies churn out then you will see that they wax lyrical about the flexibility of the job. That riders are not tied in to contracted hours and can come and go as they please. This is simply not true. The company I work for (who recently declared bankruptcy and couldn’t pay riders their final three weeks wages) would operate a shift pattern that you had to commit to almost a month in advance and would penalise riders who unbooked shifts. The reality is that most companies are looking for a way to maximise their earnings and because we, as couriers, aren’t technically employees they will often find ways to reduce our earnings.
We do have the great work of the people at Courier and Logistics branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain to thank though. Tirelessly fighting our corner they have brought raises in the rates in three of the largest courier companies in London and are currently giving assistance to the striking Deliveroo riders.
The current situation with the Deliveroo brought this issue to the forefront of the national media. The offer that they are trying to force drivers to agree to is one that most couriers in London will be familiar with. A flat rate per delivery with no concessions for when the work is slow. It effectively safeguards the company from a large wage bill when business is slow. With companies such as Uber and Amazon potentially entering the delivery game in London in the near future it is increasingly looking like a race to the bottom in which riders livelihoods are the commodity.
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