The Deliveroo Strike

Jon Day

Wearing smart uniforms and carrying enormous insulated rucksacks, most of the Deliveroo riders I've seen don’t look much like the typical London bike messenger. Many of them appear to be everyday cyclists. Some ride creaky mountain bikes, others woefully unsuitable shoppers. I've seen them consulting maps on their smartphones, sellotaped to the handlebars of their bicycles.

Deliveroo is just one of many companies trying to crack the same-day food delivery market in London, but it's certainly the most visible. Last year Amazon experimented with using bicycle messengers in New York as part of their ‘Amazon Prime Now’ service, which aims to deliver goods within one hour of their being ordered. They recently began offering fresh food delivery too. Uber is trying to corner the food delivery market with ‘Ubereats’, run on a similar model to their taxi service, with self-employed owner-riders doing the legwork. But Deliveroo, armed with a start-up investment of half a billion dollars, has been the most aggressive recruiter so far.

Riders have seen very little of that money. (They aren't all cyclists; a lot of them ride scooters.) Until recently, Deliveroo riders were paid an hourly wage of £7, with a £1 bonus for each job delivered. They work two shifts – lunchtime and evening – but riders I’ve spoken to say it doesn’t really make sense to go home in between, and they often sit around outside, cold and unpaid, in the dead period. They say tips are rare.

This week the company announced what it is calling a ‘trial’ change to its riders’ contracts, which would see them paid £3.75 per job, with no hourly rate. The riders I spoke to thought it was unlikely they’d ever average more than two jobs per hour. With costs for running and maintaining their bikes taken into account, this amounts to less than the minimum wage.

Deliveroo riders and drivers went on a wildcat strike yesterday to protest against the changes. The strikers, not unreasonably, are demanding an hourly stand-by rate that would guarantee them the national minimum wage, as well as other benefits afforded employees.

Today, the riders were on strike again. Someone from Deliveroo’s management came out to speak to them, offering to discuss the new terms one-on-one. The riders said they would only discuss the terms collectively (some have already been sacked for not signing the new contracts), and dismissed the notion that the new payment scheme was only a trial.

In April, members of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, which has had some success pressuring traditional courier companies into paying their riders a living wage, began a test case, arguing that their employment status as self-employed subcontractors was misleading, and that riders should be entitled to minimum wage, sick pay and holiday pay. In July, Deliveroo made new riders sign contracts which tried to prevent them going to court to be recognised as employees. The IWGB case is ongoing.


  • 13 August 2016 at 12:51am
    Dukenwala says:
    Can it be termed a "strike" if they are not employees?

    The current state of the labour market is rather puzzling; Who can afford not to work in London for circa £9 an hour?

    I wonder if our reliance on cheap labour will snuff out technological advancement; the great robot age is rather less lucrative if carbon based "bots" can be had for less than £20k a year.

    One can begin to understand why Keynes was so wrong about our leisurely future.

    • 14 August 2016 at 2:06pm
      MarkOP says: @ Dukenwala
      Deliveroo appear to want to have their cake and eat it. They want to define their workers as independent, but still have the ability to 'sack' them. The rhetoric used by the supporters of zero hours contracts peddles fantasies of flexibility, which in reality only extends to the employer because it bypasses employment legislation applicable to employees. Perhaps it's time for the workers employed in such industries to start organising and recognise that by the same token, they aren't bound by trade union legislation which bans wildcat strikes or withdrawing their labour collectively as and when they feel it necessary. If all the workers in the zero hours industries decided one day to collectively exercise their rights to flexibility and go to the beach instead, what would there be to stop them?

  • 14 August 2016 at 8:48pm
    Mat Snow says:
    To judge by the evidence of three conspicuously dumb decisions…

    1 To reduce the pay rate for their front line workers unilaterally to an untenable level;

    2 To try to bully their front line workers with vicious contracts;

    3 To attempt to pick off dissidents with divide-and-rule tactics a child could see through…

    … Deliveroo can't be paying their managers much either, or else they might have had people in place with an inkling that they were pouring a bucket of shit not only on the Deliveroo brand as hip and cool but on the reliability of the actual service which is critical to the success of their business. If Deliveroo can't reliably deliver at a low price, people will pay a bit more for a service that can, and Deliveroo's half a billion investment will be swilled down the toilet.