On the 10 September couriers for the popular food delivery service Uber Eats went out on strike in Glasgow city centre. The strike was organised by the Glasgow branch of Couriers Network Scotland, an advocacy group supported by International Workers of the World. The strike occurred as a result of disputes between the company and its couriers regarding the rates at which workers are paid. As part of the industrial action, approximately 50-70 couriers gathered in the city centre in order to highlight their concerns and warn that further action may follow.
Uber Eats couriers in Glasgow are paid at a base rate of £2.80 per completed delivery. On top of this they are paid "boost payments". When a courier is asked to accept an order they will be shown whether a boost applies. This is shown as a number by which their base rate of pay for completing the order will be multiplied. If, for example, the boost is shown as 2 for a specific order the rider should be paid twice as much for completing that order than they would have otherwise.
How much a courier receives from "boosts" varies depending on the amount of couriers expected to be available and the projected demand for deliveries over a certain period of time. Their function is to incentivise couriers to accept orders during periods of heightened demand.
Monday’s strike was a result of widespread dissatisfaction among couriers regarding these boost payments. According to couriers, boost rates in Glasgow have been noticeably declining over the last few months. In addition to this, technical issues have resulted in couriers completing deliveries without receiving boost payments. In theory drivers could make a living wage without these boost rates however, they would need to do many orders in quick succession. So for many drivers these boost rates are necessary to make up a living wage.
A spokesperson for the UK branch of International Workers of the World summarised the concerns of the striking Uber Eats couriers, stating: “In recent months, this boost payment has been significantly reduced or stopped altogether, meaning that it's incredibly difficult for couriers to even make basic minimum wage at some points for what is dangerous, dirty and exhausting work”.
The spokesperson, who wished to remain anonymous, went on to claim that “when payment is low, couriers can often be encouraged to cycle and drive more dangerously to try to make minimum wage, which is bad for everyone’s safety and particularly for other road users”.
In response to the strike, a spokesperson for Uber Eats claimed that a technical issue was at fault for boosts not showing up on couriers’ apps. According to Uber Eats, this technical issue has since been resolved and steps have been taken to make sure that those affected receive payment for boosts that did not appear as a result. In response to claims that Uber Eats couriers are underpaid the company’s spokesman stated that “this summer couriers using our app in Glasgow took home an average of more than £9 per hour with many also using other delivery apps”.
Despite Uber Eat’s response to the strike, it is clear that many of its couriers remain dissatisfied. When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Couriers Network Scotland made it clear that similar industrial action would be undertaken in the future should the company fail to take further steps to address the concerns of its workers.
“In terms of what the strike achieved, the threat of industrial action in the short-term forced Uber Eats to immediately admit they had a technical problem with the boost system and promise to refund couriers who had been delivering without an additional ‘boost’ payment. Monday’s strike was regarding low boost payments in general though, and despite warm words from Uber management, we've yet to see any significant improvement so this is likely to be the first in a range of further actions planned.”
As a courier for Uber Eats, Couriers Network Scotland’s spokesperson did not wish to be named in print. While the possibility of this has not been confirmed it is clear that some of those involved in the strike believe that they could face recriminations from the company if identified publicly.
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