I wrote this article on 18 February 2021, but with the knowledge that there is an upcoming decision at the Supreme Court against Uber… I waited until publication, just so that I can end with my views and comments on the landmark 19 February 2021 ruling, particularly as there will undoubtedly be ramifications for the whole of the gig economy.
During the course of 2020, hardships have led to drastic changes in our lives. For me, in addition to advocacy and social research work, I decided to take up some part-time work for food courier services Deliveroo and Uber Eats. It fit well around my schedule, I enjoyed being out and about, and I needed the extra cash to clear some credit cards.
What a turbulent experience it has been.
Part of the gig economy, these app based delivery companies rely on independent, so-called “self-employed” couriers who, like me, are guaranteed no income, provided no employment rights, as well as no sick-pay benefits, duty of care nor annual leave.
For me – that was fine at first. This was a part time thing and a way to earn a little extra.
For others, however, the story is incredibly different. Hefty mortgages to pay off, the responsibility of children and relying entirely upon these app based services for their income.
I’ve met many fellow couriers along the way; one a qualified pilot, a PhD Neurology candidate, a semi-professional football player, an actor who performs for a well known West-End musical as well as hundreds of South East Asian, African, South American and Eastern European men and women who rely on these companies for their income due to their circumstances in being unable to find employment elsewhere, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I’ve earned a gross income of just over £12,000 doing courier work part-time in the nine months that I’ve been doing it. I’ve made some great friendships with restauranteurs and fellow couriers, seen parts of London I’ve never been to before and have been able to stay financially afloat (just about).
Some evenings, for four-five hours of work, I could find myself with £80-90, sometimes earning about £20 per hour.
However, upon reflection of the past nine months, the reality for most, including even me for five months where I became ‘financially dependent’ on these apps , is that…
With an influx of new riders joining these courier platforms, in-particularly due to loss of employment through the pandemic, existing riders have found their workload significantly reduced. Because the business model that these companies use is by selling the dream of “owning your very own little independent business and be self-employed and flexible”, they’ve gotten away with using precarious contracts to avoid paying workers a minimum wage and providing these workers with basic employment rights including sick-pay and annual leave.
On average, during Sunday – Thursday, riders typically get paid about £3 – 5 per order, dependent on distance.
There are ‘peak hour boosts’, generally reserved for weekends where a multiplier of between “1.1 – 1.5+” is applied, essentially giving riders the opportunity to collect peak hour orders at 10-50% above the base pay.
However, the catch 22 situation is that, at peak hours – restaurants are so busy, the wait times significantly increase thus limiting the number of jobs a rider is able to complete.
I initially started this work whilst seeking alternative full-time employment as a secondary income source. However, out of my nine months, five of them actually became a situation of reliance for income on these services as a job offer that was made to me was withdrawn, putting me back into a job-seeking position.
In August, Eat Out to Help Out significantly reduced my earnings due to a drastic reduction in customers as people headed out to Eat Out and catch Corona (without a lime). Looking back at my hours and earnings in August 2020, I’ve calculated that my net pay, after costs, working on average 45 hours per week throughout August equates to just £4.93 per hour. This is £3.79 under the National Minimum Wage and a majority of the money that I did make that month was during peak-hours.
My pay would probably be at least £1-2 below £4.93 per hour. I put that £4.93 down to a thorough knowledge of something all riders need to get to grips with quite quickly, because…
…unless you know the restaurants to avoid…
… Wait times
Some restaurants… are gems. They’ll have your order ready for you, on time, and let you get on with it. This means that you go to the restaurant, pick the assigned order up and be on your way. Within 5-10 minutes, you’ve earned £4. If this happens consistently for about 4-5 orders, things can be okay, with earnings of about £10 – 15 per hour (generally at peak times only!).
On the other hand, some restaurant chains can be very problematic, McDonald’s being a prime example. Uber Eats and Just Eat couriers will line up for about 20-40 minutes, come face-to-face with an overworked McDonald’s employee who will eventually hand the order over, leading the rider to be marked with a ‘thumbs down’ from the end customer all for the trouble of £3.20 gross and once fuel and insurance costs are taken into account, about…£1.50 for the hour. The Uber driver is stressed from no pay for waiting, the McDonald’s employee is overworked due to an influx of orders and the end customer receives soggy chips. Everybody’s unhappy… Except for Uber.
Friday and Saturday and sometimes Sunday nights are the busiest… Generally at dinner time. Like I mentioned above, I earned often between £15-20+ per hour. When these rare occasions happen, I’m celebrating as though I’m on my way to becoming a millionaire (with the benefit of hindsight, what an utter joke!)
What does this really equate to?
… Come to think of things:
I work for say, £15 per hour and that will only really work for 9 hours of the week.
That means, I’m earning £135 for 9 hours of work.
Minus fuel and specialist insurance costs with the ONLY insurer that offers pay-as-you-go ‘hire and reward’ insurance, Zego, and that brings my earnings down to about £90 for 9 hours of work, a mere £1.28 above the national minimum wage… for working during peak hours… on the weekends, when I could be at home enjoying Netflix and playing fetch with my dog?
Then, a few months in, I notice that my tyre treads have worn down significantly, costing £580 to replace; TfL have decided to invoice me for photographs of my car parked on red routes that have been changed due to the addition of bicycle lanes without appropriate signage to indicate the change; my car service indicator light turned on way sooner than expected and I even managed to kerb my diamond cut alloy wheels because of a super-tight alleyway entrance to a Deliveroo ‘cloud kitchen’.
Sadiq, whilst I know it’s not entirely your fault, the 7-day per week Congestion charging zone has also been an absolute income loser for me, particularly when operating on Uber Eats with whom for the life of me I cannot understand why, just don’t tell the courier where they’re heading to. I’ve found myself constantly an additional £15 per day down, just to deliver a £4.50 order to a Congestion charging zone area.
So not quite lucrative then… So, what about…
…Customers and tips?
Well, most customers are very friendly and pleasant to deal with. However, with London being how London is, there are a lot of new development blocks with about six security gates to go through as well as five lifts. The worst is unarguably the Vauxhall area – my arch nemesis. Another area that I detest is the Battersea area – Smugglers’ Way, Battersea Reach; these are all areas that are an absolute nightmare to get to and the time spent parking and trying to find the right building keeps the clock ticking but no extra pay is given for this. Uber is particularly problematic as, until now (for some riders), you have no idea that you’re heading into one of these areas.
Oh and, yes…these also happen to be the customers that don’t tip.
American customers, I love you. I really do…there has not been a single American customer that I’ve delivered to where a tip isn’t included. This doesn’t mean I no longer find the American tipping system absolutely ludicrous – it’s that, for food delivery couriers in the States, money can be made and it can be made well because the food and hospitality economy has been built on the ridiculous exploitation of the most poor, by the rich, who are able to utilise labour when needed and keep on hold an employee, without pay, for times that they are not needed. This is essentially the gig economy business model, the difference being that in the States, the general public are aware of this system and substitute workers’ pay…with tips.
In Britain, the general public simply have no idea how these couriers work and what their base income is, thus leading to a majority of the British public opting not to tip their courier, under the belief that they’re ‘earning enough’ or ‘must be receiving minimum wage’. It’s an easy mistake to make… Because, surely… the Government haven’t dropped our core principles in this country of Employment Rights and protections for all, to allow exploitative billionaires to set up a smart phone app to exploit the very people these employment protections exist to protect?! Surely not…
…Well, yes, this is exactly what has happened, evidenced even by one customer who commented to me, “Wow, a new Audi, Deliveroo are treating you good man!” – … I really wish pal, it’s my own car that’s costing £500 per month that I’m working my arse off just to be able to pay off!
For Deliveroo, the morning alcoholics are an interesting bunch – Deliveroo’s stringent and bizarre ID policy mandates requesting to see ID from EVERY SINGLE CUSTOMER, even if they’re 90 years old. The problem is, most couriers don’t abide by this and just ask the customer for their date of birth. Then, poor old me (or another rule abiding courier) goes to deliver four cans of Carling and a bottle of Smirnoff at 11am in the morning and an angry beer-bellied bloke starts to throw a tantrum once asked for ID. What do Deliveroo rider support do? –
“You can deliver it anyway rider”
… “Okay, are you sure?”
“Yes… you can deliver it, no problem?”
*knock knock knock* “On this occasion, Deliveroo rider support have said I can deliver this to you”
“Yeah, that’s right you f***ing pr**k, c**t” whilst a heavy door is slammed right into my foot.
10 minutes later… I write a lengthy e-mail to Deliveroo, explaining what happened.
One week later, “We’ve sorry this has happened”
“Okay, thanks for your apology, but what have you done?”
“We’ve taken action”
Two days later… an order pops up, with the same address from the same store.
And so this brings me to…
There’s the ‘OK’, the ‘Good’, ‘the REALLY good” the ‘Bad’ and the outright… “F*** NO am I going there!”
These are the restaurants that won’t interact much with you, may make you wait about 5 minutes for an order, but generally are OK to accept an order from. However, even these can have their problems, such as Meat Liquor, where demand soars because of Uber’s inability to manage orders appropriately:
Your order is ready, the manager greets you with a “Hello”, says “Thank you” to you and will smile at you.
“The really good”
One time, I was having a really bad day and upon going to pick up an order at ‘Top Taste’, a Caribbean restaurant in Wandsworth, the guy behind the till said to me “Brother, listen… This is for you” and handed me a bag… along with another bag that contained the order I was collecting. I asked him “Sorry, is this both for the customer”… “No…This one my brother, is for you”.
He might not know it, but when I returned to my car, that one act of generosity almost brought a tear to my eye. I was actually hungry that day and felt really down about an interaction earlier that day when Karen decided to shout at me for being 5 minutes late. I worked for about 10 hours, it was a quiet day and my earnings were only about £49 during that entire 10 hour period (- £1.75 per hour for insurance costs and about £9 for fuel, my earnings were…hmm… £22.50, so, just over £2 per hour)
Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, Five Guys etc… The thing is… I’m not blaming the staff at these stores. Lack of training on aspects such as health & safety law, overworked employees and excessive demand has created friction between both riders and restaurant workers, where arguments are frequent amidst rising tensions. The solution is pretty simple – stop accepting customer orders, but of course – this means less money for the likes of Deliveroo and Uber.
“The F*** NO am I going there”
My biggest no-way am I going there are Deliveroo’s ‘cloud kitchens’. The reality of accepting a job from one of these places is that you’ll be waiting excessive times with no pay, amongst a cloud of cannabis fumes and no social distancing. Here’s 29 Lydden Road, in Earlsfield, South London and the reality of what your rider is going through when you order from various ‘Deliveroo Editions’ kitchens:
But there are also the contemptuous independents too. There was a time that a very serious incident occurred in August 2020 during Rishi’s Eat out to Help Out where I found myself kidnapped by a restaurant manager who refused to hand over an order unless I went to the back of his restaurant, which was impossible due to roadworks. When I went back in to the store to collect the order and explain that “there’s literally a bunch of workmen blocking the alley”, he started shouting at me and telling me to leave, all whilst I was simply trying to explain that I was collecting an order and can’t go to the back. He decided to lock me in to the restaurant and call the police to tell them I won’t leave. The hilarious YouTube video I uploaded recently of the incident shares a beautiful moment of the 999 operator telling the man “how is he supposed to leave if you’ve locked him in sir”. This happened at a restaurant called Indian Room in Balham.
Again, I reported this restaurant to Deliveroo and shared the video footage of the incident.
What happened? – As far as I see, ‘Indian Room, Balham’ remains very much an option on the platform.
At a restaurant called Gourmet 2, where I had spent at least over £1,000 over the past few years as a customer and spent at least £140 in 2020 alone; feeling that I had a degree of loyalty and would be respected; entering there as a delivery driver, things changed drastically. I was sworn at, humiliated in front of customers and shouted at to leave. What action did Uber Eats take? – I don’t know. I still see that the restaurant remains on the platform. Why did this incident (which is up on YouTube) happen?… Because I wanted to just simply use the…
Now, I don’t want to go into things in too much detail, but I have a genuine medical condition that requires immediate use of the toilet at any time. It’s much to do with my anxiety disorder, which I’ve spoken about before on my blog.
Toilet access, rather lack of, has perhaps been my biggest problem with gig economy work and one that caused me to find myself dubbed ‘Toilet Man’ as I began a campaign of stinging restaurants who I know refuse access to toilet facilities for delivery drivers, despite it being a legal requirement. I’ve hit a few restaurants, but things can get dangerous and heated very quickly – after all, nobody really gives a toss about a delivery driver. Unfortunately, the reality is that over 95% of restaurants just will not let you use the toilet, despite it being a legal requirement and reiterated by the Health and Safety Executive last year. This is in particular problematic for those with bowel and bladder conditions, and also, women – for whom the possibility of taking a leak on a bush isn’t possible and monthly cycles can turn up at any time.
You can read more about my ‘Toilet Man’ experience on my last article… It’s what I became incredibly passionate about and continue the fight for other couriers, having now taken it all the way to the appropriate Government ministers to respond to, but ultimately, Toilet Man is the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.
After an incident that occurred with a restaurant on Lavender Hill in Clapham Junction called ‘Pasta Evangelists’ / Sapori, where I was physically pushed out of the store for asking for my order and to use a toilet… had the police called on me because the owner didn’t want me using the toilet…and faced the threat of arrest from the police who decided to take the side of the restaurant, of whom a staff member picked up a broomstick to try and come and attack me with it… I felt, enough is enough.
So, it’s time to conclude… and I’ll end this article discussing my final thoughts as well as my thoughts on The Supreme Court Ruling against Uber on the 19th of February 2021.
For some, as an income top-up, taking advantage of these app based delivery services can be a good way to earn some extra cash over the weekend. However, this means working no more than about 10 hours per week on Friday, Saturday and sometimes Sunday nights, and importantly – being okay with the risk of coming home earning nothing.
However, the reality for most riders out there is that they are doing the job as a primary source of income. They are the ones that when calculating their actual time worked are earning a mere £3-5 per hour after expenses.
Yes, not all of them, and some are fortunate enough to be able to earn much more, but the cold and hard reality of it is that ‘high-earners’ in the gig economy are an exception to the norm rather than the norm itself.
My experience with gig economy work has been an interesting one. I’m a UCL graduate having only ever worked decent salaried jobs with all kinds of perks and benefits. Now though, I’ve seen what it feels like to be quite literally at the bottom of the societal pile. Working long-hours for companies backed by wealthy billionaire investors who benefit from your time and hard-work, but are unwilling to pay a decent wage for the hours that are actually worked.
It’s a business model that is entirely engineered to exploit and an absence of regulation has only been because the government are able to add the 5+ million workers in the UK to their list of “employed”, boasting “record levels of employment”.
These exploitative enterprises exist solely for one purpose and one purpose only… to destruct. They are disruptive technologies that have infiltrated the economy so hard that for a restaurant to survive without using their technology is near to impossible. They operate ‘cloud kitchens’ which have become a social nuisance to dish out cheap food to customers who believe they are ordering from actual restaurants. They care not for their existing riders and drivers, continuing to add more and more people to their platform so that the end-user experience is a positive one, but the experience for workers becomes an untenable one.
So, as Lord Leggatt handed his verdict down yesterday… My thoughts really did turn to the couriers who will think “oh no, this is terrible, my livelihood will be destroyed”… I understand that sentiment and that’s because, this is what the gig economy has done to this country. It’s embedded itself so deep within that it has now become the master to whom reliance has become an inevitability.
However, for the long-term, our economy needs to recover from this exploitation. This was never a sustainable model, it was an exploitative one. These companies don’t care about rider welfare – if they did, they wouldn’t operate in the way they do. Uber, for example, during the recent sub-zero temperatures and icy conditions, incentivised their riders by dangling an offer of £10 to complete a ‘quest’ – an unrealistic amount of orders within a set time, leading to desperate riders speeding, breaking rules of the road and risking their lives… for a tenner. These companies have a just one interest, and that is – money, and they care not from whom they get it.
So, thank you… Lord Leggatt and fellow Justices, for finally calling these companies out on their bulls**t.
Deliveroo, Uber and Just Eat couriers… Claim your 12%+ of annual leave pay. Make sure that you exercise your right to be identified as a worker and welcome this Supreme Court ruling as the beginning of a new chapter in your life… one where your basic, fundamental rights…are respected.
I’ll end with some food for thought… does everything I’ve revealed here mean that I’m asking for customers to stop using these apps?
Well… I don’t know, because the truth of the situation is that, boycotting these apps means putting people out of jobs… but at the same time, using these apps means a passive acceptance of pure exploitation.
And that’s exactly what these apps have done to us as a society – destroyed us – from the very core.