Food delivery firm Just Eat is set to bow to pressure and start employing couriers as employees rather than as spuriously self-employed “independent contractors”.
The company plans to start employing 1,000 workers “directly” via a delivery arm (Scoober) which will be operated by the recruitment agency Randstad. This means that these workers will all receive some measure of sick pay, holiday pay and other employment rights which most UK food delivery workers are currently denied.
Just Eat’s move is part of a Europe-wide move by the firm towards regularising the employment of its delivery workers. The decision reflects growing organisation among those workers. It also reflects the fact that “the gig economy” is losing its sheen of novelty and being widely recognised for what it really is: a step back in time to Victorian gang-master-style exploitation.
It also comes on the heels of a major court victory for workers in the UK. In December 2019, Stuart (the gig economy firm which currently organises Just Eat’s delivery arm) lost an appeal against a courier. The court confirmed that this worker was in fact employed by Stuart as a “limb (b)” category worker or “dependent contractor” and therefore had a claim to back-dated holiday pay and other rights. This move may be an attempt by Just Eat to escape the fall-out from that decision before more workers make use of this precedent.
These things are all good news. But Just Eat’s move should not be over-stated. Firstly, 1,000 workers is not a lot compared to the current — large — numbers of workers employed by Just Eat via Stuart on a gig-economy basis. The “gig economy” racket will operate alongside the “employment agency” racket.
Secondly, Stuart is continuing to “onboard” workers, flooding the streets with food couriers to increase competition between workers and put pressure on earnings.
Thirdly, being employed by a recruitment agency isn’t great! Randstad has made it clear that they will be using zero hours contracts. In 2019, Heinz food processing workers employed by Randstad organised protest meetings and reported the following to Wigan Today: “The recruitment agency Randstad has also been making mistakes with people’s wages week in week out. Staff are having to phone them up to basically beg for their wages.
“There have been cases of people waiting two months to get what they are owed. You can just imagine how much pressure this puts on working families already living on the breadline. Staff have had to go to foodbanks because of these mistakes. This treatment is disgusting…”
Food delivery workers deserve a real living wage instead of piece rates; they deserve security, dignity, sick pay, holidays and pensions: they do not deserve “disgusting” treatment at the hands of Randstad! The IWGB union has rightly demanded the Just Eat should employ all of its delivery workers in-house.