Roses are red, violets are blue, workers strike for fair pay at Deliveroo

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14 Feb 2024

Kate Alexander

Kate Alexander, Research Fellow

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Roses are red, violets are blue, workers strike for fair pay at Deliveroo

If you were planning to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a takeaway at home this year you might find that you can’t use major food delivery platforms including Deliveroo and Uber Eats, as workers take a second day of strike action demanding better pay and conditions. This follows over 3000 workers taking part in strike action forming motorcades in Brighton, London and other cities in the UK earlier this month.

The prevalence of low and insecure pay in the platform economy is a major issue for app-based employment. IES background research found that in 2019 the average hourly pay for solo-self-employed drivers was £8.77, with a median pay of £6.58, well below the National Living Wage. Furthermore, platform workers’, who earn money using online platforms to provide services for individuals or organisations, incomes can be insecure. Earnings vary over time depending on demand, with rates partially set by algorithms which don’t provide transparency to workers. This creates massive income insecurity for the people cycling through the rain to bring us our dinner.

Platform workers are not entitled to the National Living Wage as they are classed as self-employed ‘independent contractors’ rather than workers or employees. IES research suggests that many platform workers benefit from the flexibility offered by this status and choose to work in the gig-economy for this reason. However this flexibility can be ‘one way’,  such as drivers having to work at peak hours to maximise income. Furthermore, independent contractors lose out on basic rights including a minimum income floor and sick and holiday pay. The current round of strikes are demanding action from platforms around these issues.

As well as drawing attention to the precarious income of platform workers, these strikes illuminate issues with the enforcement of workers’ rights in the UK. Successive governments have not issued new legislation to keep up with the rise in platform employment, while the Labour Party has plans to address this issue of platform workers classification but have shelved a commitment to introducing a single ‘worker’ status which would see all but the genuinely self-employed entitled to basic rights.

In the absence of legislation, workers are left with two options to secure their rights - legal rulings, and direct action. The Supreme Court recently ruled that Deliveroo riders are not classed as workers as they can substitute another person to perform their deliveries. Further legal challenges around pay could be raised and have been successful in the past. In 2021 the Supreme Court found that Uber drivers were legally workers as Uber’s app controlled their work to such an extent that they were not meaningfully self-employed. This led to Uber introducing the National Living Wage as a minimum income floor as well as holiday pay. However, legal routes are lengthy and difficult for workers to navigate independently.

Furthermore, platforms have discretion in how they apply these rulings which typically relate to the individual workers named in the case. As the Productivity Institute explains, Uber initially tried to deny the Supreme Court ruling on this basis and did not take forward the ruling that a minimum wage guarantee should apply anytime drivers are logged on to the app and available for work; instead applying the income guarantee to only when passengers are in a vehicle.

Without parliamentary or legal solutions, platform delivery workers have been left no option but to take collective, direct action, demanding changes from platforms if they are to see any improvement to pay and conditions in the near future. As app-based and platform employment is on the rise globally and permeating all sectors of the economy, these strikes may mean more to us than having to collect our own takeaways for a night. So, this Valentine’s Day I am sending solidarity to the strikers.

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Any views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Institute as a whole.