Almost one in three Deliveroo riders in Scottish cities have been paid below the minimum wage for making food deliveries, according to data analysed by the Bureau Local and The Ferret.
The delivery company claims its self-employed riders are paid more than £10 per hour on average and says rider satisfaction is at “an all-time high”.
But analysis of crowd-sourced sample data from thousands of invoices uploaded by riders across the UK, suggest that 41 per cent are receiving less than the minimum wage of £8.72 per hour for those over 25. In Scotland 29 per cent of the riders who contributed their data received less than this amount.
Working with the IWGB union, which developed a tool for riders to upload invoices, the Bureau reviewed the pay documentation from almost 12,000 delivery sessions by 318 riders across the UK in the 2020-21 financial year.
More than half of the riders who took part – 56 per cent – earned less than an average of £10 an hour for all the time they were logged in. Some took home far less, with one in six getting less than £6.45 per hour – the lowest possible minimum wage. However Deliveroo is not obliged to pay their riders minimum wage because they are deemed to be self-employed.
Deliveroo claims the findings are “misleading” and says it is only “meaningful” to calculate rates of pay for deliveries completed, not the time between orders.
The findings of the investigation come at an important time for Deliveroo. The firm expects to be valued at up to £8.8bn when it lists its shares on the London stock market next month.
But on 24 March Aviva Investors, one of the UK’s biggest investment firms, said it would not invest in Deliveroo as the company’s riders did not get the minimum wage, sick leave and holiday pay. Aberdeen Standard has also expressed concerns about its employment practices.
Rates of pay
Deliveroo says riders earn £13 on average at peak times. But data entered through the IWGB union’s online system by riders in Scottish cities suggested far lower rates of pay then advertised by the company.
In Aberdeen, where seven riders logged invoices for 1,020 orders, 46 per cent earned less than £10 per hour and 38 per cent less than minimum wage. In Glasgow, where ten riders logged 1,282 orders, 43 per cent earned less than £10 and a third less than minimum wage. In Edinburgh where nine riders logged 3,266 orders, riders fared a little better with just a quarter – 24 per cent – earning under the minimum wage.
Deliveroo says the data, which accounts for less than two per cent of 50,000 UK riders is not representative and rejects the findings. It claims that riders are free to refuse orders while logged on to its app, or to accept orders from other companies.
But The Ferret spoke to riders in Edinburgh and Aberdeen who said they struggled to make decent rates of pay and could only do so by working peak weekend hours.They also raised safety concerns, claiming riders were offered little training before being sent out on roads.
Some said the lack of transparency about how the Deliveroo app algorithm works in allocating riders with jobs, meant they felt pressured into accepting orders in areas where they worried about their safety at night, or taking jobs from restaurants where there would be long waiting times, meaning their earning power was curbed.
The computer algorithm used to assign jobs – which is named Frank after a character in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – uses vast amounts of data to predict order timings based on factors including the time of day, the number of couriers logged into Deliveroo’s app and the distance between the customer and the restaurant. Fees are calculated separeately.
Martin le Brech, a student who works part-time for Deliveroo in Aberdeen, said that although he works “the best hours advertised by Deliveroo” – weekend evenings – “it’s pretty difficult to make minimum wage, let alone a living wage, as advertised”.
He added: “I constantly have to think if it’s worth it to reject an order going to an area I don’t feel safe in because I don’t know if I’ll get another order after that. Or I wonder if I should I reject an order because I’ve already been waiting for half an hour at a restaurant. It’s pretty difficult and stressful.
“Having a guarantee of earning a minimum wage from the moment we log onto the app would provide us with much more safety, both financially and during the job.”
He claimed riders should learn from the Supreme Court ruling last month that Uber Drivers should be considered as workers, not contractors, giving them greater rights and put pressure on the company to guarantee minimum earnings.
Alice Barker, 30, who rides full-time in Edinburgh for various delivery platforms while also studying for a masters, worked for Deliveroo from 2016 to 2018, and claims the relative flexibility suited her.
But her contract was terminated without explanation. She agreed that greater transparency was needed both on termination policies and about the algorithms that control riders’ earnings.
She has continued to ride for other delivery companies but says similar problems persist. “It’s as if you are playing a game but you don’t know the rules,” she said. She also called on platforms to do more to ensure the safety of their workers, detailing occasions when she has faced harassment or felt unsafe delivering late at night.
During the pandemic – when she was no longer working for Deliveroo – she often felt at risk on empty streets and was unable to access toilets due to restrictions. She claims the platforms should have written to all restaurants requiring them to ensure access for riders.
Another 32-year-old Deliveroo rider in Edinburgh said he was managing by working peak hours but worried about the growing number of people in the city trying to make a living from the “increasingly precarious work”. He added: “There are now many people having to depend on it, especially due to Brexit and Covid. There needs to be better legislation to protect these workers.”
Alex Marshall, IWGB president, said the model was like “a venus flytrap”, leading to an oversupply of workers struggling to earn enough outside of peak hours. “What we have clearly exposed here is just the tip of the iceberg,” he added.
“These are the people who have fallen below the bare minimum requirements we expect for workers. This is before you factor in the cost of doing the job, the lack of rights, the lack of pension and the lack of holiday pay.
He claimed that with unprecedented job losses in the last year, companies like Deliveroo were “preying on people’s desperation”.
Cailean Gallagher, co-ordinator of the Edinburgh-based Workers Observatory, which is working with digital sociologist Karen Gregory on developing a toolkit to help riders access better data on their work and pay, said it was time for riders to take back some control and collectively organise.
“It’s possible to earn enough to survive in the gig economy,” he said. “There can be a sense of freedom about it. But there are also lots of underlying problems and a lack of any sense of connection.
“Many people find this type of work really anxiety fuelling. Every week they are living on a cliff edge and it can impact on mental health. In the worst cases there’s talk of suicide, of feeling like you’re trapped, that you’ve spent all week whizzing around the city but you’re not going anywhere.”
The living wage, local alternative
Two years ago David Squire, 30, had run out of work options, and so although Deliveroo “didn’t line up with my ethics” he signed up as a rider, went through the “tick box” recruitment process in Edinburgh, and logged on for his first shift.
“On my way there I had this realisation that I was doing something I didn’t agree with and so I turned around and came home again,” he says. “I don’t like those multinational companies who come into a city and are extractive about the way they run things.”
He found work instead as a bike mechanic for a community project, but as it was forced to close during the pandemic, he and others started to have an idea for a new kind of delivery service, inspired by the idea of doing things differently. “We did this out of necessity but we also wanted to do something helpful, to use our collective knowledge and skills to do deliveries by bike,” he says.
So, using a small fleet of cargo bikes, they set-up Farr Out Deliveries – which has been offering deliveries for all sorts of independent businesses from beer to books, bread and even one large sofa.
Workers rights are important to him. “We pay all our riders above the living wage,” he says, “and the more we make as a company the more everyone gets paid.” But several of his couriers have also had experience with Deliveroo. “They are experienced couriers so they knew how to make it work,” he says. “It’s flexible and that can be useful for someone with a passion project, for example. But being a courier is skilled work and wages should reflect that.”
He worries too about inexperienced cyclists, desperate for readily available work, being put at risk on the streets of Edinburgh. “There have been improvements but lots of things are not thought through,” he says of cycle lanes, which now vie for space alongside the trams in the city centre. “The surfaces are amongst the worst I have cycled on. It can be dangerous.”
In 2018 one Edinburgh Deliveroo rider ended up hospital with a cracked spine and head injuries after being hit by a car.
Squire says that’s why his company is getting involved with advocacy and campaigning with cycle organisations like Spokes and Sustrans. “We’re out there, cycling with our couriers,” he says. “This is about our community. “
Sold short on wages
Stewart McDonald SNP MP, who has campaigned on behalf of Deliveroo riders in his Glasgow south constituency, said that riders were being “sold short on their wages”.
He added: “Best estimates suggest that £3billion worth of wages are lost every year with underpayment contributing to this. That is unacceptable.
“To then also deny workers the simplest things, such as access to toilets, can have an extremely difficult impact on driver’s physical and mental health. Government guidance clearly states that access to welfare facilities must not be prevented. Nobody should be made to feel unsafe in their own workplace.”
But Deliveroo rejected the claims made from what “unverified data” and accounts from a “biased” minority of riders.
A spokesperson for the company said riders “have the complete freedom to choose when and where to work and can choose which deliveries to accept and which to reject”.
They added: “50,000 riders choose to work with Deliveroo, and thousands more people apply to work with us every week. Our way of working is designed around what riders tell us matters to them most – flexibility.
“These unverifiable, misleading claims from a fringe organisation who claim, at most, to have spoken with two per cent of Deliveroo riders should not be taken seriously.”
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Cover image thanks to iStock/MarioGuti