Deliveroo arrived to Dublin in May 2015. For those of you with your head firmly stuck in the 20th century it’s a service where you can order food from your favorite restaurant via the magic of the internet and have it land at your door. Jamie Goldrick caught up with some of their so called ‘delivery consultants’ who revealed a streak of hidden regressive labour practices.
Deliveroo, founded in 2013, now operates in 60 cities in Europe, Asia and Australia and has over 5,000 ‘consultants’ working for them delivering food and over 300 employees.
Its Irish locations include Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Belfast. To date it has raised over $200 million in seed capital, and as of writing is worth over $600 million. It is embedded in the big-tech ecosystem, with backers who have interests in household names such as Facebook, Dropbox, Etsy and Skype.
Deliveroo is part of what Forbes call the ‘gig economy’, whereby labour is performed as part of a flexible independent contract as opposed to a traditional employment terms.
The business model is pretty simple. They charge restaurants commission (up to 30%) for any food ordered, the customer pays a €2.50 fee (with an additional surcharge if the order is less than €15.00). From this the delivery agent receives €4.25.
So for an order of two BBQ meals and two soft drinks at a local BBQ joint worth €33.90, with an estimate of 30% commission, this breaks down as €10.17 for Deliveroo plus a €2.50 ‘RooCharge’. This is a gross worth of €12.67 for the Deliveroo, with €4.25 going to the driver. €8.42 to Deliveroo as the platform.
These delivery agents are not strictly employed by Deliveroo as such. It is explicitly stated at the beginning of their contract that riders / drivers, or ‘RooMen’ and ‘RooWomen’ are independent ‘consultants’ and may not be treated as employees, now or at anytime in the future.
Now the terminology may appear a bit confusing. When one thinks of of consultants,an image appears of overly paid researchers creaming it off the back of government quangos. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
As one of our anonymous consultants points out:
“I was working a long shift on a Saturday, 5.5 hour shift and I called control to ask to be unassigned (jobs would not show up on my screen) so I could go to the toilet. I requested 15 mins, he said that he wouldn’t approve it as that was too long, I pointed out that I needed to shit quite loudly and forcibly. Absolute joke that he was attempting to stop me from going to the bathroom”.
Here is an excerpt from a consultant’s “Service Level Assessment”:
These are clear cut cases of freelance consultants being treated as if they are on the clock. Employees in practice, but consultants when it comes to escaping an employer’s obligations.
Deliveroo recently changed their contracts which initially gave their consultants a minimum hourly rate with an extra €1 per delivery, to one where the hourly rate was dropped. Thereby leaving consultants to survive solely on a set delivery rate and non-guaranteed tips.
As one of our informants who was around over this transition told us:
“They said I couldn’t work anymore for them if I didn’t sign the new contract.”
€4.25 may appear like a reasonable rate per delivery, but as some of the embattled consultants informed us:
“Quite frequently, the allocations they give you are very impractical. A very recent example; I was in Ballsbridge and allocated to travel over to Stoneybatter. Drops like this usually involve cycling across the city to the restaurant, locking up my bike, waiting, receiving and packing the food, cycling to whatever address, which in some cases are in apartments, maybe ringing the customer on my phone at my own expense, waiting for the customer to come down and completing the transaction. Jobs like this can take upwards of 45 minutes, then I need to mark myself as available and cycle to wherever my pickup is going to be, hopefully close by”.
Many of the consultants we talked to gave us the details of what they made on their best days working, this generally amounted to minimum wage. The worst days usually involved earning well below the minimum wage, and in some cases getting “absolutely soaked” for their troubles.
This figure is to be considered as a gross earnings before they file their tax returns, insurance, and cover depreciation on their equipment.
This low rate of pay, can then be ‘incentivised’, with reports of Deliveroo irresponsibly offering €100 bonuses for their fastest delivery agents.
This begs the question, how can regressive labour practices which bypass decades of hard won labour rights, appear as ‘cool’ and progressive?
And regressive it is, at a cursory glance; consultants are excluded from minimum wage legislation, the Unfair Dismissals Act, Equality Act and Parental Leave Act. Seeing as they don’t pay PRSI they have no Jobseeker’s Benefit and of course are not eligible for Holiday Pay.
They are required by contract to possess valid insurance, yet in practice this is not enforced. While they are not required to attend any Health and Safety Induction and have no cover under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act.
Yet Deliveroo’s financial successes have reaped adulation and imitation globally. Forbes called it the next of the billion dollar startups, the Irish Independent recently released an article vaunting the success of the venture.
As one of the workers we talked to succinctly outlined:
“Deliveroo hides behind a facade of hip cool new start-up when in actual fact they are classic profit driven exploitative wankers”.
The recruitment video for Deliveroo Ireland has no emphasis on the remuneration offered to riders. Instead there is a chorus of flexible hours, staying fit when you work, and meeting lots of other cool people in the hospitality trade.
Money does not come into it, but hey it’s a free world you guys! You really don’t have to work for Deliveroo if you don’t want to. Who gives a shit about making rent when your calves look this good, right?
Well, not quite. Our respondents were not so agreeable to this notion that Deliveroo was predominantly something that’s done on the side. The majority of those we spoke to were using Deliveroo as their prime and only source of income, and anecdotally gave a figure of about 50% of other consultants using Deliveroo as their prime earner.
What is stopping a group of workers or a local authority from setting up a system to compete against Deliveroo? One only has to look at the experience of Helsinki and their adoption of the Uber model, which they attempted to apply to public transport.
The Helsinki Regional Transport Authority developed an app called Kutsuplus which was developed as an integrated algorithmic real-time on demand public transport solution. Even after a year on year growth of 60%, the scheme was pulled as the city found it too expensive to run.
Conversely, Uber, Deliveroo and other well funded start-ups do not have this problem. Deliveroo to date has raised over $200 million in funding, letting them saturate the market, plaster buses with ads, put branded rain-covers on bicycle seat posts where they operate, crowd out the competition, and most importantly withstand losses that local authorities, local businesses and co-operatives cannot.
In some cases, the arrival of big-tech into localities can be seen an un-democratic. Proposition F was proposed in San Francisco that would limit AirBnB rentals to 75 nights a year , affordable housing and activist groups raised $269,000 for their campaign in support of the proposition. AirBnB contributed $8 million to the opposition campaign, which was spent on billboards, TV ads and community campaigning.
In the end Proposition F was voted down by 55% to 45%, a result no doubt influenced by big-techs limitless pockets and aggressive campaigning.
What went wrong along the way? Technology was supposed to liberate society, we should all be working 15 hour weeks, spending our spare time listening to poetry on audiobooks whilst segwaying off into the sunset.
Today the future has arrived and it consists of underpaid contractors cycling around town with oversized boxes on their backs.
The future is not what it used to be.
Big-tech’s foray into latent aspects of our everyday lives as epitomised by Deliveroo, AirBnB and Uber, should be subject to critique. Deliveroo no doubt utlises an extremely complex logistical software to operate, yet this is innovation is used to exploitative ends. Deliveroo should be called out for what is.
So what can be done? The failures of the Luddite movement show us the futility of lashing out against already existing technological practices. There is a need for legislation at government level to stop these practices becoming normalised.
Unlike the machines of the early industrial years, the technological cloud today cannot be broken, for it is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
There is a small resistance brewing. The Boycott Deliveroo Facebook page is steadily growing and attempting to raise awareness in this regard. The group set out that Deliveroo is:
“A prime example of the ugly practice of ‘race to the bottom’, deregulation and lax attitude to worker practices and rights. If this continues all jobs will be at risk”.
Rowan Clarke, a representative of the group says that so far the group has received words of support from TD’s Brid Smith and Mick Barry, councillors Paul Hand and Cieran Perry.
When contacted about Deliveroo’s flexible work arrangements, Mick Barry TD put it that:
“Not satisfied with the precarious nature of zero hour contracts, we now have a generation that face a uphill battle for decent living standards as capitalism creates more inventive mechanisms to deny their employees minimum wage and basic benefits in order to boost their profit margins.
There has never been a greater need now for those in precarious work to organise, fight and defend their rights and work towards a broader movement that can take on these companies who see them as an easy target after years of austerity that has disproportionately focussed on attacking their future and the idea that young people deserve a future, free of debt, exploitation and unemployment”.
On the other hand, one can sit back and do nothing, enjoy your fancy curry and just hope that the industry you work in is not going to be affected by big-techs further foray into our lives.
As Rowan Clarke of Boycott Deliveroo would have it “this is not just about Deliveroo, ultimately this is about what sort of society we want to live in”.