The decision by fast food delivery service UberEats to slash the drivers’ rate per drop from £4.26 to £3.50 has proved to be the final straw for the couriers in its employ. It is their labour upon which the company relies to harvest its profits, yet it steadfastly refuses to acknowledge them as its own employees, treating them as self-employed and thereby denying them their rights under the law as hired labour.
Cutting the couriers’ delivery fee resulted in an outburst of rage in September, when over a hundred striking bikers blockaded UberEats’ head office, demanding a minimum delivery fee of £5.00.
They blocked the road outside Aldgate East tube station, shouting “No money and no food” and buttonholed suspected UberEats managers. UberEats was simultaneously besieged by disgruntled punters demanding their dinner.
Workers from McDonalds, TGI Fridays, Wetherspoons, UberEats and Deliveroo took combined strike action on Thursday 4 October in London, Bristol, Brighton and other cities, demanding £10 hourly rates and £5 for every delivery drop.
Market share in the fast food delivery sector is hotly contested by the competitors, encouraging bosses to cut labour costs to the bone. When one company, Take Eat Easy, went to the wall in 2016, UberEats celebrated by slashing its own bikers’ wages, calculating that, with one less place to go for work, workers would roll over.
Now there is speculation that UberEats is poised to take over Deliveroo, with further post-acquisition paycuts a likely consequence.
However it is clear that neither the UberEats drivers nor their comrades in Deliveroo have any intention of watching passively as their livelihood is chipped away. Two independent unions, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB), have taken the lead in these struggles.