The rising cost of living is difficult for anyone for whom the cost of essentials like food, heating and rent make up a large part of their income. But for most people, inflation doesn't particularly affect the cost of doing their job, because when you are at work it's the company that picks up most of the costs. Not so if you are in the gig economy, where almost all of the costs are outsourced by the platform to the 'self-employed' gig worker. For private hire and food delivery drivers, rising fuel costs is a burden that falls 100% on their shoulders.
The Gig Economy Project got a good insight into just how bad the situation is for gig drivers in the UK when speaking to Bryn Atkinson Woodcock this week. Woodcock drives for Stuart Delivery, a sub-contractor of Just Eat, and Uber Eats in Sheffield. He has just taken on a third job driving for the local council because despite working 10-12 hours a day at Stuart and Uber Eats, he couldn't make enough to pay his bills. It costs him an extra £25 every day to fill up his diesel car for work compared to last year, an additional burden he describes as "crippling", but says it's just the latest hammer blow to a job which, a few years ago, could support him "on just one app".
“I’ve worked seven days a week throughout the pandemic and I’m still broke,” he says. “I started this job with a good car and savings, now I’m on my third car and all my savings are gone, and all I’ve done is work.”
Woodcock is a member of the IWGB union and is part of the Stuart Delivery strike which has been ongoing since December. Many of his colleagues have walked away from the sector altogether, finding it more cost effective to take a minimum wage job in KFC or McDonald's. He says that all the full-time drivers who are continuing to plug away are now working much more than 10 hours a day to make a living, and therefore over the recommended safe driving limit.
"It’s dangerous because of the hours people are working and because they aren’t changing their tyres when they need to because they can’t afford it,” he says.
What are the platforms doing to ease the burden? If you are a food delivery driver, absolutely nothing. For UK Uber drivers, the price of fares have been increased by 20%, but the US ridehail giant is refusing to lower its commission, which is around 25%. In the US, Uber and Uber Eats have introduced a fuel surcharge this week which one Chicago driver has described as "woefully inadequate", but even that measure is yet to make it across the Atlantic. What is government doing to help? So little that Chancellor Rishi Sunak responded to a question about it by saying it is "somewhat out of my control".
It's not just the UK, the same picture can be seen across Europe: gig workers are getting squeezed, platforms are continuing to rake it in, and inept governments are looking on, pretending they don't have the power to do anything. But there's limits to this; you can only kick people so hard before they eventually kick back. The Stuart Delivery strike is one example of workers kicking back - we need many more.
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator
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Gig Economy news round-up
- PROSECUTORS REQUEST MAXIMUM PENALTY IN DELIVEROO FRANCE TRIAL: The hearings in the Deliveroo France trial have finished, with the prosecution requesting the maximum fine of €375,000 against the company, as well as the obligation to publish the judgement on the app and the company's website. The prosecution is also requesting suspended sentences and fines for three former Deliveroo managers. The criminal trial is the first of its kind in France, with the UK-headquartered company accused by the central office for the fight against illegal labour of "hidden work", based on evidence gathered on 2000 Deliveroo riders between 2015-2017. A verdict on the case was due on Saturday but has yet to be announced. Read more here.
- GLOVO IS VALUED AT LESS THAN THE VENTURE CAPITAL IT HAS RAISED, ANALYSIS FINDS: An analysis by the website 'La Información' of Spain's largest food delivery platform, Glovo, has found that it is now valued at around €900-950 million, less than the nearly €1 billion it has raised in venture capital funds since it launched in 2015. The fall in the company's valuation comes as its majority owner, German-based Delivery Hero, has seen its share value slide by 60% since the purchase of Glovo on New Year's Eve last year. HSBC bank criticised Delivery Hero's purchase of Glovo last month, stating that it "looks more like a rescue" of the Spanish company because it is "going to lose €330m". Commenting on the fall in Delivery Hero's share value earlier this month, Oscar Pierre, Glovo co-founder and CEO, said: "Delivery stock is down overall, but we're not worried because Delivery Hero is outperforming other competitors." Read more here.
- FIRST FAIRWORK SERBIA RATINGS REVEALED: Serbian platform companies received no better than four out of 10 in the first FairWork ratings in the country. FairWork academics conduct research on the platform economy in 26 countries across five continents, rating companies out of ten for how fair they are when it comes to workers' rights and conditions. Uradi Zaradi and Wolt received four out of 10, Glovo received three out of 10, while Serbian ride-hail platform Car Go received the lowest possible rating: zero out of 10. International platforms like Wolt and Glovo only entered the Serbian market in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Official statistics on the number of workers and users in the Serbian platform economy do not yet exist, but one recent study found that there are one million users of food delivery platforms across 20 cities. Read more here.
- FAMILY CALLS FOR "CHANGE IN THE GIG ECONOMY" AFTER MANSLAUGHTER VERDICT: The IWGB union has vowed to continue it's campaign for greater protection of drivers in the gig economy, after a UK court found the two teenagers who killed Bolt driver Gabriel Bringye last year were guilty of manslaughter. Bringye was selected by chance to pick up a fare in Tottenham, north London, and was attacked by a group of teenagers with the sole intention of robbing him. The 'Gabriel's Campaign for Driver Safety' was launched by Bringye's family in co-ordination with the IWGB union with a series of demands aimed at platforms to better protect their drivers. Following the verdict, the family stated that "there is no justice for Gabriel without wider change in the gig economy". The IWGB is also campaigning for another IWGB member and Bolt driver, Garad Hussein, who was also attacked while working and has just left hospital after five weeks. He has been provided with no financial support by Bolt and is worrying about how to pay his rent. Read more here.
- ADCU CALL ON LONDON MAYOR TO FORCE UBER TO PAY THE MINIMUM WAGE: The ADCU union, which organises private hire drivers in the UK, has called on London Mayor Sadiq Khan to force Uber to pay at least the minimum wage, with Uber's license to operate in London set to expire on 27 March. The ADCU defeated Uber in the UK Supreme Court last year, with the judge finding that Uber drivers were employees and should be paid from log-in to log-off. Uber has since agreed to employ its UK drivers, but it only pays them when they pick up a fare. In a letter to Khan, union leaders Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar said Uber should reimburse workers 90p per mile instead of the current 45p it pays today, as fuel price rises eat into driver income. The union also criticised Uber's decision not to introduce a fuel surcharge in the UK, after introducing one in the US last week. Read more here.
- DELIVEROO HAD LOST €27 MILLION IN 2 YEARS BEFORE EXITING SPAIN: UK food delivery company Deliveroo ostensibly left the Spanish food delivery market last year after the introduction of the Rider's Law, but an annual financial report has revealed that the company had lost €27 million on its Spanish operations in the the two years before it ceased operations in the southern European country. The annual report also shows that Deliveroo's Spanish market share had been shrinking. The British firm exited the German market in 2019 because it had been ceding ground to competitors. Opponents of the Spanish Government's Rider's Law, which establishes a legal presumption of employment in the food delivery sector, jumped on Deliveroo's decision to leave Spain following the law's introduction in August last year as proof that the Law was bad for the economy, but the latest revelations raise questions about the real motivation of the company to cease its Spanish operations. 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.