No Love in the Air for Food Delivery Riders

Niamh highlights the importance of fair pay and labor rights following Valentine’s Day strikes by food delivery drivers.

Roses are red, violets are blue, unless I get paid properly, I won’t deliver to you. 

Valentine’s Day, a day traditionally filled with love, roses and overpriced shiny pink foil-wrapped chocolate, took a turn this year after food delivery drivers across multiple apps announced a five-hour strike. Grassroots organisation Delivery Job UK arranged the strike for the 14th of February with thousands of drivers and riders from apps like Deliveroo and Uber Eats walking out with the aim of promulgating that job insecurity and horrific pay simply isn’t palatable anymore. 

Those who work in the delivery driver industry are technically classified as self-employed, despite being linked to a larger organisation. Being self-employed means that they can be, and often are, paid less than minimum wage (currently £10.42 an hour in the UK). The job market is changing and delivery drivers seem to exemplify this move towards a gig economy – a labour market that leans on part-time and temporary positions taken on by freelancers and independent contractors instead of permanent full-time employees. Whilst gig economy workers tend to have greater freedom and independence, they often experience little to no job security. The Valentine’s Day strikes reignited conversations about if and how we should be protecting these workers and ensuring that we aren’t encouraging the creation of a labour force that enables exploitation and dehumanisation.

Bikers from food delivery services strike on Valentine’s Day. Source: Daily Mail.

The issues at the root of the Valentine’s Day strikes aren’t new – things haven’t been looking rosy for gig economy workers in a while. The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) had been fighting in British courts since 2017 for Deliveroo riders to be recognised as “workers”, giving them the right to unionise and fight collectively in order to improve their working conditions and pay. Unfortunately, in November 2023, the IWGB lost their case in the Supreme Court, allowing for the continued underpayment and undervaluing of the labour of delivery drivers and riders braving the elements for below minimum wage pay. 

One of the riders who was responsible for organising this strike wrote an anonymous piece for The Guardian where they described the struggles of being a delivery driver. They wrote about the ten-hour days with the expectation of three orders an hour, working out at about £10 before costs; however, once fuel, insurance and maintenance costs are accounted for, most delivery drivers have to earn about £14 to make the equivalent of minimum wage and “It’s rare that I make that much nowadays”, wrote one such delivery driver. With Deliveroo profits set to rise and revenue hitting nearly $2 billion, it seems inexcusable that those who deliver our dinners are struggling to cover the cost of their own food bills.

Source: Unsplash.

They say the course of true love never did run smooth, but this strike certainly derailed Valentine’s Day plans. A close friend of mine is in a long-term, long-distance relationship; both agreed to choose each other’s Deliveroo orders to feel like they were a little more connected. I know others who had just hoped for a quiet night in so as to not to be reminded of the rose-tinted glasses through which the rest of the world seemed to be looking through, but all they received was a bitter taste in the mouth. I know the frustrating feeling of when plans go awry or when you’ve been craving a specific thing and you check the fridge to find that someone else has eaten it, but it isn’t food delivery drivers we should be getting salty with; rather, it’s those in charge of these exploitative systems who fail to treat humans as anything more than mere transport services. 

The cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation with falling wages is hitting most of us. Whilst ordering in might be a less common occurrence as a result, we cannot just turn our backs on the exploitation of a huge part of the British workforce. In recent years we have seen the regular striking of train staff, teachers, and junior doctors. Those working in the public service and retail industries have been consistently underpaid, underappreciated, and overworked. It’s about time changes were made to ensure that people aren’t forced to go hungry just to deliver our takeaways. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, and after years of mistreatment, I think this strike might have just been the start of that. 

 

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