The Deliveroo strike has shown students need greater education about worker rights

'Leaving university, graduates are left alone to grapple complex work contracts, and with heightened levels of competition, it’s easy to see how even the most sensible of us will fall prey to desperation'

Ella Wilks-Harper
Monday 22 August 2016 13:03
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For many students, summer provides the perfect uninterrupted time to re-evaluate their finances, get some work experience, and build up their CV. But the average UK student is saddled with debt in excess of £41,000 - 35 per cent of the average outstanding mortgage amount so this, combined with the strain of entering a competitive job market, arguably makes students vulnerable to employers and complex job contracts.

Many young people are turning to ‘gig-economy’ companies, including Deliveroo and Uber, to alleviate their financial strain. Deliveroo advertises flexible shifts and competitive pay, requiring workers to have an up-to-date smartphone, and providing the opportunity to get paid to exercise; it’s no wonder much of the workforce of Deliveroo are young and, in particular, students.

Last month, when I graduated with a maxed-out overdraft and was in much need of a flexible job that could work around a summer of interning, I turned to Deliveroo. A month later, I quit. I quit out of shock at the lack of support provided to employers. Deliveroo’s gig-economy structure means workers sign up as ‘self-employed’, with no guarantee of work, leaving its young workforce without any sense of security. On signing up, workers must also accept that future pay rates can be changed at any moment and even considering taking Deliveroo to court over a dispute is likely to be messy.

Working for Deliveroo exposed the lack of preparation given to students entering the job market. Rarely are young people taught the ins and outs of worker rights. Leaving university, graduates are left alone to grapple complex work contracts, and with heightened levels of competition, it’s easy to see how even the most sensible of us will fall prey to desperation.

During my first shift for the company, my phone fell out of a faulty phone holder provided by Deliveroo, smashing on impact, costing a fortune to replace. But on emailing about the incident, I was left without any condolences and no offers of support, with the blame left on me. Though I benefited from not having a boss over my shoulder and the increase in exercise, the company’s original charm began to quickly chip away.

But the recent Deliveroo strike victory shows there is hope brewing. The six-day strike saw Deliveroo concede to the backlash, lifting the compulsion that drivers must opt into the trial pay model, under which they will be paid £3.75 per delivery, in contrast to the standard model of pay that offers £7 per hour, with an additional £1 per delivery. The recent decision to not force workers to opt in to the trial exemplifies how solidarity between workers even classified as ‘self-employed’ can stand up against employers effectively.

Deliveroo pay protest

Though there are doubts as to the company’s reassurances, with riders working in a trial area wishing to remain in the old pay model, forced to change work zones. Additionally, though Deliveroo has offered guaranteed orders for workers opting in for the trial, after the month there is no promise of these guarantees - placing workers at risk of earning as little as £3.75 an hour.

Mags Dewhurst, chair of the IWGB couriers and logistics branch, spoke to the Independent about how the new pay model, referring to Deliveroo as “targeting the most vulnerable sections of society, students, the working-class and migrant workers” who can barely afford to strike. Though she praised the “strength and tenacity of the strikers,” calling it an “effective resistance.”

Outside Deliveroo’s Angel headquarters, Faye, a 23-year-old student from SOAS, was returning her Deliveroo equipment back. Faye explained her reasoning for quitting the company: “Just a bit tiring and also the wage change. Given that sometimes you can’t even get two shifts, if it’s not too busy that night, then it’s below minimum wage.”

Other young workers outside the Deliveroo headquarters voiced concerns over work safety. With the introduction of the new pay model, many fear this will drive up competition leading workers to work recklessly to get more orders. This was voiced by part-time Deliverooer and drawer, Colleen, who said: “I don’t run red lights or anything and take it very easy and would rather not take the £1 drop than have a crash. But being paid by the drop will encourage people to start going flat-out, to start running lights because sometimes it makes a huge difference to hitting minimum wage or going drastically under.”

This month has seen how a large group of self-employed workers can come together and tackle a large company head on. Though these victories show the collective spirit of how workers can come together and strike successfully, the true success is yet to come with gig-economies continuing to grow.

While greater crackdown of employers paying employees below the National Living Wage and providing appalling working conditions, most notably Sports Direct, more needs to be done in tackling such companies that leave their workers vulnerable and lacking work security. Beginning with educating young people about their worker rights and paying closer attention to how gig-economies are run is a good start.

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