The strike of Stuart Delivery workers in England has re-started this week, after a hiatus over the holidays. The IWGB union strike had already made history for being the longest strike of app-based delivery workers in UK history, lasting 18 days from 6-24 December. As workers return to action and vow to dig in for the long haul, it raises the obvious question: what is it about this strike which has allowed it to have much more staying power than all the previous gig economy strikes before it?
The Gig Economy Project posed this question to Khalil Lange, a Sheffield Stuart Delivery courier and one of the strike's leaders, and Jake Thomas, the IWGB's courier branch secretary, in an interview you can listen to/read here. The answer was that the Sheffield Stuart Delivery couriers - where the strike originated before spreading to six other towns and cities - had innovated a new approach which has allowed them to sustain the strike over time.
Rather than stopping work entirely, the strike has focused on picketing peak times at the most important restaurants for deliveries. This way they can sustain pressure on the company while allowing workers - who are 'independent contractors', meaning they have no scheduled hours of work - to still earn an income. The hardship strike fund tops up their income still further, and the combination of both allows the workers to strike without being completely out-of-pocket, which is pretty important for gig workers who live financially precarious lives.
"Sheffield has been acting as this demonstration of how you can have sustainable gig economy action, how we can bring people in without putting precarious workers at risk," Thomas, who is a courier for a different Just Eat sub-contractor in London, explained. "So people are looking to Sheffield and places like Blackpool, Huddersfield and Sunderland, and saying ‘if they can do it then so can we’.
"Because usually gig economy strikes last just one or two days; maybe you can do a temporary boycott and a demonstration. This has been absolutely unprecedented in how long it is. It’s kind of acting as a beacon of hope."
What the workers have realised is that they can turn the 'flexibility' of being an independent contractor to their advantage when it comes to industrial action, as they can choose to strike on their own terms, in a way which maximises effectiveness and longevity. We will only truly know how effective this tactic is when the dispute is resolved one way or another, but it looks like a tactical advance in gig worker struggle, one that workers - not just in the UK, but internationally - can learn from.
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator
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Gig Economy news round-up
- AUSTRIAN COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT SEES WAGE RISE FOR COURIERS: A collective agreement has been signed in Austria between the Freight Transport Trade Association and the Vida trade union, in which delivery couriers have won a 3.5% wage increase for 2022, as well as a 50% Sunday surcharge. An agreement on working hours was also reached. "Specifically, this enables the bicycle couriers to have a 5-day week and thus longer free time blocks," said Vida negotiator, Karl Delfs. Read more here.
- BRUSSELS PROSECUTORS APPEAL DELIVEROO VERDICT: The Brussels Labour Prosecutor's Office is appealing against an 8 December verdict by the Labour Court, which found that Deliveroo riders are self-employed. The verdict was at odds with the vast majority of court rulings across Europe, which have found that app-based food delivery couriers are employees of the platform. The Labour Inspectorate had asked for 115 riders to be re-qualified as employees, but the Judge found that the claim was "unfounded" because there was "no hierarchical relationship" between the riders and the company. Read more here.
- BOLT RAISES AN ADDITIONAL €628 MILLION: Estonian ridehail platform Bolt has raised another €628 million in venture capital funding, after raising €600 million only last August. The company has raised €1.8 billion in total over the platform's nine years in existence, and the new fundraising round gives it a valuation of €7.4 billion. The Talinn-based firm claims to now operate in all of the main app-based delivery and transportation markets: ride-hailing, electric scooters, car sharing, restaurant delivery and grocery delivery. Bolt's super-fast grocery delivery offer, Bolt Market, launched six months ago and operates in ten countries. Read more here.
- JUST EAT ORDERS GROW BY A THIRD: Just Eat, the largest food delivery platform in Europe, saw its orders grow by a third in 2021 to 1.1 billion. The Dutch platform's strongest growth was in UK and Ireland, with orders up 52%. Despite the growth, the platform missed its 2021 target of a 45% rise in orders. Jitse Groen, the company's chief executive, claimed the company's orders were six-times larger than when takeaway.com and Just Eat merged almost two years ago. Read more here.
- MADRID PRESIDENT DEFENDS UBER SUPPORT: Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the right-wing President of the Community of Madrid, has defended her administration's support for Uber. At an Uber organised event in the Spanish capital to promote 'Uber Green', the electric transport service it has launched in Madrid, Ayuso stated: "Our way of thanking you, because we believe in the company, is to let you grow freely". She added that the traditional taxi sector had to be "more competitive and modern", and that she would not "follow the path of other regions where everything is prohibited and where everything is impoverished". Uber barely has a presence at all in the Barcelona region, where regulations to limit ridehail are much stronger. Julio Sanz, President of the Madrid taxi association, responded to Ayuso's speech by saying she was acting as a "mere commercial" for Uber. Read more here.
- CABIFY IN CONFLICT OVER PRIVATE HIRE LICENSES IN SPAIN: The ridehail platform Cabify faces the prospect of losing 1,000 licenses, a third of its fleet, due to a dispute with Auro, which owns 2,000 'VTC' licenses. Private hire vehicles in Spain are only allowed to operate if they hold a VTC license, with a limited number available. Auro wants to sell the VTC licenses to Cabify's competitors, Bolt and Uber, instead, but Cabify says it cannot do this because the company has signed an exclusivity clause with the Madrid-based firm. Two courts have so far come to different verdicts over the dispute, with new judicial battles expected if no out-of-court agreement is reached first. Read more here.
Have we missed important news on the gig economy in Europe this week? E-mail Ben at [email protected] to help us improve our news round-up.