On Thursday 10 September Deliveroo drivers in Sheffield took action against Deliveroo, by hitting one of their biggest clients, Wagamama, with an all-night boycott, wiping out that evening’s sales. They were striking over falling pay and unfair sackings.
The drivers of Sheffield, despite the hardship many face as wages fall, and despite a recent influx of new drivers to the app, threw themselves into the strike in a show of wonderful solidarity. Picket line conversations were conducted in many different languages, as drivers made a point of rejecting orders from the targeted restaurant on the spot, in view of their colleagues.
An unjustly sacked worker led a mixed picket of drivers on the one hand; and on the other, union supporters from the local community who had been drawn together by activists from the Sheffield branch of Workers’ Liberty. Local Labour MPs have offered words of support to the campaign too.
Local supporters of Workers’ Liberty have been assisting Sheffield food couriers in building their union branch – part of the IWGB – for over a year. Many workers were hesitant about taking strike action at the height of the pandemic. But as 2020 has worn on, Deliveroo has driven its prices down further and further. 18 months ago drivers would make no less than £4.25 per delivery. But today in Sheffield it is rare to make more than £4 on any delivery.
This drop in prices, combined with a rash of unfair sackings, has spurred local drivers into action. There are at least eight drivers in Sheffield who have been “sacked” from the app. Deliveroo insists that these workers are “independent contractors”, so they are sacked simply by having their account frozen, as one might be barred from Twitter.
Drivers get little more due process than what Twitter offers unruly users, either. The Sheffield Eight have been fired following anonymous complaints against them by members of the public or restaurant bosses, without offering a chance to answer the charges, let alone see the evidence against them. Some of the allegations levelled against the sacked drivers relate to claims that the breached the app’s coronavirus safety code.
How seriously Deliveroo really takes coronavirus safety is for the reader to judge. The “Covid-19 safety training” that drivers have received is limited to a video and a couple of emails. The sick/self-isolation pay that the app offers drivers is a hard-to-access pittance. But if a restaurateur with an axe to grind alleges that a driver has carried out a collection or delivery procedure incorrectly, they’re for the chop right away.
There is no right of appeal: once a termination decision has been made, Deliveroo stops responding. So the drivers have been obliged to find ways of making Deliveroo pay attention. They did this by hitting one of their biggest clients. Deliveroo is in ferocious competition with its rivals for market share. Their exclusive contract with Wagamama is worth a lot of money – Wagamama made £41 million in delivey sales in 2019, all through Deliveroo – and more in terms of strategic advantage.
Wagamama’s silence over Deliveroo’s poverty pay and abusive practices, as well as its sensitivity for Deliveroo, make it a prime target for industrial action. That action began on Thursday 10th. The task for the couriers now is to spread it out across the country.