This weekend, delivery riders in Dubai for the Amazon-backed app Deliveroo held a strike over a proposed 15% cut to their pay and increased working hours to 12 hours a day announced last week. This follows the UAE government raising gas prices in April for the third-consecutive month, which affects the riders who pay for their own gas and can sometimes total a distance of 300 miles in a day.
Deliveroo riders in Dubai refused to deliver for over 24 hours, disrupting the system in place to take meals from the app’s restaurant partners to their customers, including in the busiest period of fast breaking in Ramadan.
Photos were shared on social media of large groups of delivery drivers in the company’s trademark turquoise uniforms standing beside their motorbikes outside a ghost kitchen. The riders protested against fuel price hikes, lower pay, and a lack of benefits. Others did not come into work or log into the app at all. In response, some social media users made calls to tip delivery workers more, or to boycott Deliveroo entirely.
“They are not providing us our legal rights according to law and decreasing rates while petrol prices are going up every month…We are human[s] not donkey[s]”.
Two Deliveroo riders (who were employed via agencies) separately told Reuters that the company had planned to cut earnings from 10.25 UAE dirhams ($2.8) to 8.75 dirhams ($2.38) per delivery. Riders also have to pay for fuel, motorcycle repairs, rent, work permits, employment visas, and traffic fines out of their own wages. They also alerted to the poor healthcare they are provided, despite the significant risks involved in driving their small vehicles on Dubai’s high-speed highways.
Deliveroo strike in DUBAI pic.twitter.com/oiHYcffQjH
— M. Imran (@MImran63066827) April 30, 2022
This protest is unusual as the UAE’s authoritarian government, run by a handful of powerful, oil-rich families, bans labour strikes, independent trade unions and public protests. During the pandemic, Dubai grew an image as a ‘safe haven’ for white-collar workers, which enticed many millionaires and entrepreneurs. However, as evidence of worker mistreatment surfaced in the Expo 2020 world fair, the state has long been criticised for its treatment of low-wage workers, mostly from Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
In the UAE, migrant workers make up a significant part of the poorly protected delivery workforce. Deliveroo riders then found that their lack of severance pay, health insurance, visa costs, or flight home after two years violated the United Arab Emirates’ amended labour laws that demarcate the maximum working hours to be 8 per day (48 hours/week). However, it remains illegal in the UAE for an employee to pay visa costs.
Aftermath of the strike: Deliveroo says it is “listening to riders”
On Sunday, Deliveroo told restaurants that “riders are striking and refusing to attend their shift or deliver orders” and promised to “resolve this issue as quickly as possible while continuing to protect Deliveroo rider earnings…to remain the most competitive in the market”.
Such ‘competitive’ earnings were revealed by one rider who worked nine hours a day, every day, to amount to a monthly salary of 390 dirhams ($106).
On Monday, Deliveroo sent an email to restaurants stating that they had backed away from plans to change rider pay structure. Alas, although the aforementioned driver revealed that the pay cut had been scrapped, his schedule continued to display daily 12-hour shifts.
For those who don't know #Deliveroo take 25 to 30% or every order from its restaurant network, they then deduct for every thing imaginable leaving us in a negative operating profit.. then they screw their riders!
Support your rider and your local restaurant by ordering direct
— D.N.S. (@DubaiNameShame) May 1, 2022
A spokesperson from Deliveroo confirmed that the company would now try to create a structure that would ‘work for everyone’, telling Al Jazeera in a statement on Monday:
“Our initial intention with the announcement was to propose a more well-rounded structure for rider earnings in addition to other incentives…It is clear that some of our original intentions have not been clear, and we are listening to riders.”
Mustafa Qadri, Chief Executive of human-rights group Equidem issued a statement urging Deliveroo to pay workers a living wage. Qadri also called on UAE authorities to permit trade unions and not punish striking workers after finding that despite recent amendments to UAE labour laws, weak enforcement means that workers are more likely to be arrested for going on strike than be supported by authorities.
Wider discussion about forced labour in the UAE and abuse of gig economy workers
This cavalier treatment of workers in such a dominant global business raises serious questions regarding the broader issue of forced labour in the UAE.
Crucially, this is also not the first time that Deliveroo has been called out for labour rights abuses. Last year, Deliveroo riders in London went on strike to call for a guaranteed living wage, sick pay, holidays and stop unpaid wait times. These labour rights abuses by ‘gig economy’ employers feed into the debate regarding the gig economy. Does the format championed by giants such as Deliveroo and Uber breed a culture of ‘no workers’ rights?
The gig economy has at times been seen as hugely beneficial for those in need of flexible work and money, smoothly facilitated through a digital space crafted for service providers and users alike, whilst the app owners can take a fair sum off every transaction. Supporters of the gig economy find that it effectively cuts out the ‘middleman’, meaning that costs to users are kept low.
However, the gig economy has its critics. It is accused of not actually straying from a basic form of exploitative capitalism leading to ignoring labour violations and mistreatment of workers. Even in America, the citadel of classic capitalism, Amazon is facing labour unrest as workers try to unionise (and often fail).
The recent strike in Dubai proved to be successful as it forced Deliveroo to revert to its prior pay rate and working hours policies. The protest was also a remarkable event of defiance in a Gulf-state business hub that criminalises labour actions. Soaring demand for food delivery means that the industry is competitive, and so services will continue to fight to gain profit and market dominance. It is imperative that more pressure is put on these companies to provide better protection for their workers.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Delivery Rider on Motorcycle. Featured Photo Credit: Rowan Freeman, Unsplash.