The cost of delivery: Foodora workers strike back against ‘raw deal’

Pressure group says they've tried to reason with Foodora management, but now it's time to take their campaign to the next level.

File picture of Foodora courier bag outside a restaurant / Credit: iStock

Workers at Foodora Finland say the company has eroded their terms and conditions of service, slashed pay, and even closed down a space where bike couriers could warm up in the middle of winter.

Now, a pressure group of current and former freelancers want people to know the realities of being part of Finland’s new ‘gig economy’.

“They start off with quite good working conditions and good pay, and after a couple of years they’ll decrease the pay, and conditions get worse and they put more responsibility onto the worker without providing things themselves” says K, a current Foodora worker, who asked to remain anonymous because of fears over job security.

One of the main problem areas for the pressure group is salaries, which they say used to be €8 per hour on week days, and €2 per delivery. That’s been cut in new contracts to €7 per hour but a slight increase of €2.2 for every pickup and delivery.

“In the beginning they offered employee contracts to all the bike riders, that was about two years ago when they started in Finland. They were all employed with 25 hour contracts but as the years went by the conditions get worse. They did have a strong group of workers from Asia who worked for Foodora by day and Posti by night. But they all moved on as conditions got worse” says K.

Foodora insists their pay is competitive.

“A majority our riders are satisfied, with the average salary with the new compensation model being €14 per hour, up to the earning potential of €17 per hour” Carl Tengberg, Managing Director of Foodora Finland Oy says in an email.

File picture of Foodora delivery courier on a bike in Germany / Credit: iStock

Concerns over new contract

Workers at Foodora have to sign a contract to get shifts, but they’re not considered employees.

As such, they don’t get any benefits like holiday pay, health insurance or sick pay.

“Foodora changed the contract for the freelancers unilaterally in July. There was some unhappiness because of that. It affected mostly the freelancers who I personally think are in the most precarious situation because their pay isn’t a salary or a wage, because it is not an employment contract” explains Tuomas Tammisto, a former Foodora bike courier who is part of the campaign.

Several current workers complain that they’ve signed the contract, but never received a copy from Foodora, so they have no record of what they might have agreed to.

Basic conditions for workers

Another key area for the pressure group is to secure better on-the-job conditions for the cyclists.

During the harshest months of the winter in particular, Foodora couriers think they should have access to heating, a bathroom, and a place to rest between busy delivery schedules.

“A year ago in Helsinki they had a place to eat, rest, warm up during a shift, and take a break or use the toilet. But that was abolished. It means that couriers have to come in their riding gear to start the shift and they don’t have a break space or store stuff they might not need. One of our demands was that this space was reinstated, especially for those who work at night”.

An offer from Foodora management to negotiate cheap cups of coffee at local coffee shops was never followed up on, says the pressure group, leading to a feeling that managers simply didn’t care about relatively small welfare issues which can make a real difference to the cyclists.

Foodora tells News Now Finland they are “looking into the possibility of returning the social spaces”.

Immigrant workers considered especially vulnerable

An estimated 80% of Foodora’s freelance workers are foreigners. Some are students and working part time to earn extra money. Others rely on the work to make ends meet every month.

“Quite a few of them are refugees. Yes, there are students and people who live or work here but also actual refugees who do not want to lose their jobs and they are willing to do anything and are very easily exploitable” says Rose Pietola, who worked as a Foodora cycle courier, delivering food for nine months.

While Foodora management says they “take pride in working with a diverse group of partners”, Service Workers Unions PAM says there’s a concern in particular over foreigners who might not fully understand their rights under Finnish law.

“Potentially those people who probably don’t know all of their rights and don’t have the means to make sure their rights are fulfilled can be exploited” says Sirpa Leppäkangas, an expert on wages and working hours with PAM.

“Of course it is always a good thing there is new ways of offering jobs and creating jobs for those who want to earn more money at the same time as they are studying for example, but it shouldn’t be a way to outsource the responsibilities of being an employer” Leppäkangas adds.

Foodora’s legal troubles

While Foodora are facing a grassroots rebellion here in Finland, on the other side of the world they’ve hit a major problem.

In August, the company went into voluntary administration in Australia, owing tens of millions of dollars (euros) to its parent company.

It comes hot on the heels of two court cases, where the company was being sued by the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Transport Workers Union in Australia.

The lawsuits allege that Foodora underpays and exploits its delivery riders.

Meanwhile Foodora’s German parent company has been trying to find buyers for its operations in Netherlands where it never managed to become a market leader among food delivery services; and the company was hit by summertime strikes in France over poor working conditions.

“The gig economy question in Finland is very new, so there’s not much legislation in place around the issue and it hasn’t been in the public arena very much” says Foodora worker K.

Unions say in their opinion this is an open and shut employment case, where Foodora is dodging its responsibilities as an employer.

“In our opinion they should be considered employees according to the employment act” says Sirpa Leppäkangas.

“If their contract shows all their working hours and they are supposed to take care of customers, then there isn’t a difference at all compared to an employee”.

File picture of Foodora bike couriers in Italy, 2018 / Credit: iStock