Hey Roo! A Deliveroo Rider Comments On The Strike

MY JOB AT DELIVEROO WAS A PRETTY GOOD ONE. You got £7 per hour, £1 per delivery, and tips. This meant you could earn about £10 an hour a lot of the time. There are hidden costs – you have to pay for your own mobile data and transport maintenance, and sometimes the Deliveroo rack will break, effectively ending your shift. But cycling on summer evenings is not so bad, and seeing the guilty look on people’s faces when they have just ordered pizza from a restaurant a few doors down is funny, if also a bit sad.

Then last week they sent round an email asking us to sign a new contract which paid £3.75 per delivery and had no hourly wage. It began with, ‘Hey Roo,’ which is the cutesy name they call us, their delivery workers. It ended with the sentence, ‘While you are not obliged to sign this updated fee document, it is a compulsory requirement for all riders in your area who wish to continue working as suppliers with Deliveroo.’ Less cutesy.

There are a limited number of hours in a shift in which you could make enough deliveries to get close to £10 an hour on the new contract. I already have to tell myself to slow down every shift and remind myself that an extra few quid is not worth cycling dangerously. This new contract would make it necessary to rush to ensure a fair wage. Plus, some hours I get no deliveries at all: without an hourly rate, I would be hanging around for Deliveroo, for free. But I only work part-time in mostly peak hours; for those who work full-time, on call during off-peak hours, the contract would be devastating. I held off signing it, hoping I could work my next few shifts on the old contract and make a bit more money before I was forced to sign it.

The next day I got a text, email and a phone call from Deliveroo, which I ignored, followed by a nervous voicemail asking if I had any questions about the new contract. Annoyed, I Googled, ‘Deliveroo contract’ and saw that riders were already gathering in protest at the changes. I went down to the Deliveroo headquarters to join them. Instead of working my shift, I spent last Thursday night cruising around central London with more than 100 motorcyclists, scooter riders and cyclists decked out in Deliveroo clothing. Everyone was smiling at each other. One man kept shouting, ‘Power!’ We found it impossible to create a viable chant using the word ‘Deliveroo’, which the ex-investment banker CEO Will Shu must have craftily chosen for its unchantability.

Demands were delivered to the management on behalf of the riders by the Independent Workers Union (IWU), which has represented cleaners and bicycle couriers in similar disputes. For workers who have to agree to be ‘freelance’ in order to work – signing away traditional working rights like sick pay – the IWU is crucial. The president, Henry Chango Lopez, promised via megaphone that they had won fights like this before, and if we continued striking we would also win.

Before all of this happened I thought that it would be impossible for Deliveroo riders to unite to fight for better conditions. We spoke to each other occasionally outside restaurants about the ups and downs of the job, but there was little sense of solidarity. Deliveroo constantly briefs the media that its riders are all small business owners, entrepreneurs or students trying to make some cash on the side while they pursue more important goals, and this individualising myth makes unionisation harder. The truth is that it is a job thousands of people rely on, that many had built their lives and family income around, and the proposed contract, imposed with little to no warning, threatened that.

Much has been made of Will Shu working as a scooter driver for the first eight months of starting Deliveroo so he could get a feel for the logistics. The scooter he used is spray-painted gold and proudly displayed in the Deliveroo headquarters. Scooter drivers were the biggest showing at the protest and will be most affected by the contract changes as more of them work full-time and their fuel pay and maintenance costs are higher. Under the proposed contract – the viability of which is looking shaky, based on comments made by Deliveroo management today – many of their current working hours would be rendered worthless. Shu’s golden scooter is beginning to look more like a symbol of his alienation from the workers he exploits than a trophy of his down-to-earth credentials.


Image Credit: Novara Media


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