Red card for platform abuses in the Covid-19 crisis


Covid 19: A call to protect non-standard workers

The global pandemic shows the need for non-standard workers to have the same legal protection similar to workers with regular legal contracts. The EU and the Member States must now guarantee atypical workers access to preventive health and safety, social protection and all other labour rights. However in the light of the spread of the virus, there is also a need to stop any delivery activity which is not considered essential and these workers should be covered by the temporary unemployment schemes similar to those of standard workers. The measures taken by some countries to contain the spread of the virus and provide some security for workers are failing to protect the most vulnerable workers.

Platform workers are working through this crisis, delivering food and goods to the homes of those in quarantine or infected by the virus. Their precarious working conditions give them no choice but to continue working, even if they have symptoms that could mean they have the virus.  The alternative would be to lose all their income. For the riders, the danger has changed, from the car’s bumpers to door handles and keypads.

The global pandemic: A big break for delivery platforms

Platform operators are benefiting from the market opportunities brought by the temporary closing of shops and restaurants. This is supported by the lack of legal clarity from the governing bodies.  While the major fast food chains are pausing their businesses all over the continent, online delivery businesses are finding this to be their golden chance. Their offer is however severely limited, even though they have put in place several measures to improve the quality of their services and special procedures to continue their work. Uber Eats offers restaurants the opportunity to earn their income daily rather than weekly. For those business that would like to feature on the platform, either as a one-off or on permanent basis, Uber Eats has set up a team specifically designated to accelerate the registration process. Deliveroo announced that, in France only, 1,400 new establishments have joined the service since the beginning of March. Deliveroo is also speeding up a partnership with the food store Franprix, which would give them a greater market share. The platform Stuart confirms this frenzy of online shopping by people who are stuck in their homes. Finally, Uber Eats has a new agreement with Carrefour to organise a delivery in 30 minutes, ensuring their entry into mass retail.  At the same time, retail workers faced aggressiveness by some customers, pressure from employers, fear of catching the virus and have received very little consideration. Today, with the drop in activity due to closures of restaurants, couriers struggle to get enough rides in order to compensate loss of income. The current market conditions reinforce the presence of these online businesses, however it is a risk multiplier, as couriers can unfortunately be healthy carrier of the virus.

Some recent findings

Besides this unscrupulous manner of making business, platform delivery workers contracted by online companies are subjected to abuse from these companies in respect to social protection, working conditions, occupational safety and health and fundamental rights at work. Some of the scandals ETUC has identified so far include:

  • Amazon, Deliveroo and other delivery platforms have put forward a marketing strategy branded "zero contact delivery" which consists of avoiding face to face contact between the customer and the rider by leaving the parcels at the doors and paying the purchased goods remotely. Couriers are sceptical, though, about this procedure being capable of eradicating the risks as promised by the companies. It is enough to see the crowds of delivery people around reception points to understand that, for couriers, social distancing is very difficult. There is no such thing as a “zero contact delivery”
  • The marketing strategy also includes limited protective action to build confidence of staff. On Stuart's mobile application, for example, the riders receive hourly messages with health and hygiene advice. The application has also deactivated the electronic signature of clients when receiving parcels. Besides this, no personal protective equipment is provided to the workers. The company is however exploring the possibility of granting financial assistance to the riders to enable them to purchase masks, gloves and hydroalcoholic gels.
  • Deliveroo France proposes bear the expense of medical teleconsultation and to compensate a 25-euro fee for the purchase of protective equipment for its riders. Instead of providing workers with the adequate equipment, the company passes on the responsibility to purchase such protective equipment to the worker, offering only a ridiculous fee. The company has also established a compensation scheme for staff who fell ill from the virus. However, not all sick workers are eligible to it: workers should have made 130€/weekly during the last 4 weeks to be eligible for this compensation. A rider that only managed 110€/weekly was refused compensation by Deliveroo. In the case where they accepted to intervene (no figures exists if it really happens), Deliveroo promised to pay a lump sum of EUR 230 for 14 days of sick leave for these riders who contracted Covid-19 (that is to say, a daily compensation of EUR 16.43). Who can live on 230€ for two weeks in France? Also 14 days is not enough to eliminate the virus once contracted. We can’t accept a discounted and low-cost social protection.
  • Deliveroo France made a rider redundant after undertaking industrial action that called for OSH preventive measures. This sanction was implemented in the middle of the pandemic and affected those who participated in strikes demanding the cessation of their work during this period and compensation for all couriers impacted by the Covid-19.
  • Amazon continues to focus on sales at the expense of the health of its employees. Every day, there are thousands of contacts between employees in the warehouses, which is inconsistent with the measures undertaken by governments to keep workers at home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Besides, French unions are also critical over the fact that Amazon is lying when assuring that the platform is distributing only "essential goods" to respond to the crisis caused by the coronavirus. In France, the company announced on March 18 that it would focus on home, food, medical, and beauty care products. Workers however report the company offer goes beyond these essential needs and includes items such as deckchairs and other leisure articles. By making itself unavoidable, Amazon seeks to avoid regulation and take advantage of the crisis. While the health crisis shows our essential need for public services, it is the giants of the tech industry, often accused of tax fraud and optimization (thus depriving the States of the money necessary to finance its collective services), who come out of it more influential and richer than ever. Since the market crash of March 12, 2020, Amazon stocks increased 220 euros of additional value per single in three weeks. Jeff Bezos alone owns 80 million shares. Jeff Bezos alone owns 80 million shares.

This bad practice is not limited to Europe. To add to the cynicism, in the United States, despite its profits, Amazon has launched an appeal for individual donations to supplement its fund to pay for sick leave for infected employees. Also, Amazon Care, the company’s “virtual medical clinic” for Amazon employees, was in talks with Seattle officials to deliver at-home coronavirus testing kits to local residences in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Platform workers, who make up a large percentage of the workforces of both companies — and who are excluded from protections such as paid sick leave, health insurance, and unemployment insurance — are concerned that any such effort would leave them exposed to coronavirus. What kind of society are we going to, if testing kits are privatised for those who can afford them and delivered by those who are the least protected?

Delivery platforms are employers

The crisis shows more than ever that the disruptive business model of delivery platforms, which was already known for abuse of labour rights, lack of social protection and absence of collective bargaining, doesn’t allow the appropriate health & safety protection required in this crisis. When governments decide to stop all unessential activities, a delivery platform still continues its business by giving the possibility of ordering a single chocolate bar online and have it delivered. The only way to avoid such practices and to protect workers, their families and the clients is to recognise duties and obligations of these platforms like any other provider of work. Since the 19th century, we call them employers.