In York and Sheffield, food delivery couriers are continuing an ongoing campaign of boycotts, strikes and demonstrations. Their aim is to civilise a wild-west industry that relies on Victorian-style super-exploitation, painted up as the modern “gig economy”.
Deliveroo, UberEats and other operators have used the coronavirus crisis as cover to slash pay and over-recruit – all the while noisily lauding their exploited workforce as “heroes”. In Sheffield, much attention has been drawn to the plight of workers who fall foul of Deliveroo’s seemingly-arbitrary sacking policy. One union member has been forced to launch a crowdfunder to fend off starvation while he contests his unjust termination.
The latest group of workers to join the national couriers’ fightback is in Wolverhampton. Following weeks of conversations and a meeting held in a carpark, drivers voted to start taking action at UberEats by disrupting the business of their biggest single partner, McDonalds. One Wolverhampton driver, John, spoke to Solidarity.
“At the start, I was the only one in this area to be in a union. And I tried for some time to speak to drivers and get them to join the union. We have a few members now, and we are all trying to speak to people to get them to understand the benefits of union membership.
“We have big issues with UberEats. Right now, in Wolverhampton, pay on UberEats is about half the minimum wage. We took a look at what was going on, and decided we needed to do something. We started speaking with all the other drivers and set up this group.
“With UberEats we have a standard rate for delivery which is very low. But we get a 'boost', depending on how busy our area is. Three or four months ago the boost was a multiplier of 1.3. But now the biggest boost is 1.1. So for one delivery you can get £2.60. Even as little as £1.90. You go to a restaurant, they take 15-20 minutes to give you the food, then you have to deliver it, and at the end you’re getting £2.50.
"The other big issue is that most of us in my area are car drivers. For a car you need to pay for petrol, car repairs, and other things. I have a colleague who has worked nine hours today and made £60. After petrol and insurance that comes to £40 for a nine-hour day.
“We have drivers here in Wolverhampton working 80-90 hours a week. And even after that they can’t pay all their bills. Drivers rely on tips: tips often make up more of their takings than payment from the platform does.
“We did a strike, a boycott of McDonalds, on Friday [2 October]. We got a call from the local UberEats manager. She said she would improve the boost next week, but we demanded this in writing because we did not believe her. Then she said that the decision was not actually down to her – so we carried on with the action. We spoke to the McDonald’s area manager too, who was very nice. But if there is no change this week we will do it again.
“For the next boycott we think we will bring a lot more drivers along with us. We want to put pressure on UberEats because just one day is not enough to move the company. They need to see that we are serious and that we don’t want to work on these wages any more.
“When we started this strike, we were thinking, what can we achieve from our local strike? On UberEats they have different boosts for different areas. So by striking here we can change the local boost. There was a strike on Uber in 2018 that had trouble because they were only one city against the whole country. But with local action we can make local changes.
“My message to other drivers? First of all we are key workers, and we need to be treated with respect. We have been working all this pandemic period. We want to do something about pay. If people are with us and speaking out alongside us, if we are together, we can change things. If we don’t work, they don’t get money.”