Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 51 Number 12, April 10, 2021 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Workers at Deliveroo Continue to Fight for Control over their Lives and Working Conditions

Hundreds of Deliveroo riders, members of the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB), struck work and demonstrated across Britain on April 7, to coincide with the first day of open trading following the company's disastrous Initial Public Offering (IPO) of shares on the London Stock Exchange the previous week. The actions were announced following research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which exposed that riders can earn as little as £2 per hour in poor working conditions under their fraudulent "self-employed" status in the gig economy [1].

A reported 400 riders switched off the Deliveroo app. Instead, 200 rode their bicycles from the company's headquarters in central London to join a demonstration, while other socially-distanced protests took place in Reading, Sheffield, Wolverhampton and York, demanding basic workers' rights to holiday and sick pay, a guaranteed living wage, an end to unpaid waiting times, fair terminations, and health and safety protection. Workers are further demanding their right to reach collective agreements with the company. The action has been widely supported, the strike fund raising £10,000 in its first few days.

Deliveroo employs some 100,000 riders globally, half of whom are in Britain. It was listed on the exchange on March 31, immediately losing more than a quarter of its value, or £3 billion, in what was described as "the worst IPO in London's history" by one of the company's own bankers [2], which saw the share price drop sharply from an initial £3.90 to just over £2.80 in a single day's trading. A number of major investors (including names such as Aviva, Bank of Montreal, Hargreaves Lansdown, and Legal & General) all indicated that they would not purchase shares in Deliveroo leading up to the IPO due to apprehensions.

Apart from industrial action, there has been a rise in litigation action against the company. Commenting at the time of market flotation, TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said:

"Deliveroo has no excuse for the way it treats its workers. It's a damning indictment of the company's exploitative business model that so many major funds have publicly shunned this float. Instead of setting aside hundreds of millions of pounds to fight legal battles on workers' rights, Deliveroo should just treat its riders fairly and pay them properly.

"And if the company thinks it can just cash in on this listing without improving working conditions, it should think again. Deliveroo will face greater scrutiny as a publicly listed company, and responsibilities to stakeholders. It needs to get start treating its workers decently."

In May last year, over 70 members of parliament declared that people "are being put at risk" by Deliveroo ignoring the workers' demands. The IWGB's #ClappedAndScrapped campaign gathered the support of 65 MPs in an early day motion calling for an overhaul of Deliveroo's terminations process.

Meanwhile, rival delivery company Just Eat has announced that it is to abandon the model of "self-employment" in favour of direct employment.

The actions come in the wake of the legal victory over gig economy giant Uber, which was forced to recognise that it employs its drivers [3].

That victory was called historic, with profound implications for the whole gig economy. Yet it should also be noted that a similar case brought by the IWGB against Deliveroo in 2018 was defeated, with the court ruling in the company's favour that its riders were self-employed.

The ongoing struggle for workers' rights in the gig economy underscores then the need for a public authority that is willing and able to consistently ensure that the gig monopolies fall into line without exception, and that rulings such as that against Uber are not ignored or declared to apply in a limited way or to a section of workers. It is up to workers to constitute this new kind of authority in which they act and speak in their own name.

Alex Marshall, IWGB President and former bicycle courier, said:

"Deliveroo presents a false choice between flexibility and basic rights but the Uber ruling showed that here as well as abroad, workers can have both. That is the least they deserve and what the public expects for our frontline workers.

"They said it couldn't be done, but by getting organised and speaking out, riders have triggered a domino effect which already slashed £3 billion from Deliveroo's valuation and that should give pause to any corporation that thinks precarious workers can be endlessly exploited without consequence. It's time for Deliveroo to do the right thing, recognise its riders as workers and treat them like human beings."

1. E. Mellino, C. Boutaud and G. Davies, "Deliveroo riders can earn as little as £2 an hour during shifts, as boss stands to make £500m", The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, March 25, 2021
2. "Disaster strikes as Deliveroo becomes 'worst IPO in London's history'", Financial Times
3. "Uber Drivers Make Headway in Control over their Lives and Working Conditions", Workers' Weekly, February 27, 2021


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