On Wednesday 19 August couriers working for Deliveroo struck in Sheffield, demanding a pay increase, sick pay, and an end to sackings from the platform without hearings or appeals. Their action almost completely shut down all delivery business for local restaurants selling food via the Deliveroo app.
The strike drew support from Labour MP Olivia Blake, who sent a message to the rally:
“I fully support Deliveroo workers, and all precarious workers, organising for better conditions and the right to a guaranteed living wage. For too long Deliveroo, Uber, and other employers of the platform economy have exploited their workers. Now is the time for guaranteed, decent wages; fair conditions, an end to unfair sackings; and real sick pay for all.”
Since summer 2019, couriers working for platforms like Deliveroo and UberEats have been organising with the assistance of activists from the local Workers’ Liberty branch. Workers’ Liberty members and our friends in the local Labour Party and left have been out on the streets talking to delivery workers and helping them build their organisation. A group of worker-leaders and a culture of organisation has developed from among conversations between drivers parked in Sheffield town centre between jobs. Over the last year, couriers have taken on the council over unfair parking tickets, confronted delinquent restaurant managements who treat workers with disrespect, and built their union’s strength to fight the big platforms over pay and workers’ rights. Today their IWGB union branch has dozens of paid-up members and the drivers are strong enough to effectively close down Deliveroo’s business at peak time on a week night.
Four weeks of action
On Monday 24 August, a well-attended Zoom meeting voted on a four-week programme of actions to keep up the pressure on employers big and small in the food delivery gig economy.
Dee Uddin, the Chair of the Sheffield branch of the couriers’ IWGB union, said “We did not protest or take strike action in the pandemic because we knew we were supporting the country and it was a time to step up and help people, not count the pennies. We are all supporting families — and my son suffers from severe asthma — but we knew we were doing an important job for society. But now we can’t stay silent because the pay is so low.
“People are obliged to work for multiple platforms just to survive: but the companies penalise us for that. We get no holiday pay and no sick pay, and sometimes you make under minimum wage: the other day I waited 25 minutes for an order at Mr Miyagi for which I was paid £3.20. But we drivers are the ones the companies penalise for long waits. And we have to cover insurance, petrol and upkeep on our vehicles.
“We need clarity on how the fee systems work. You might make good money one day and then the next find the fees have been cut. When I started, the lowest you’d get for a delivery was £4.25. Today I get paid as little as £3.10.
“There should be a hiring freeze. A lot of people laid off elsewhere have signed on to work for the app but the result is that no-one is getting enough work to support their families.
“We need sick pay. At the start of the pandemic I was very ill for a week. I received £100 for that week. We need proper sick pay. Many drivers feel that they have no choice but to work when they’re sick. Even if they fear they’ve got Covid they still feel pressure to come into work, because they’re worried, asking themselves, “how will I feed myself? How will I survive?”