Since late last year, Just Eat couriers who deliver fast food for companies like McDonalds, KFC, Costa Coffee, voted to begin strike action against an appalling paycut of 24%. Many of them are subcontracted to another delivery company called Stuart, a subsidiary of the delivery multinational company, DPD.
The couriers are organised in the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB). Strikes have been taking place in different cities and towns across the country from Sheffield to Chesterfield, Blackpool, London, West Yorkshire and Leicester to name a few. Here we carry a few reports of local strike action.
Just Eat food delivery couriers in Sheffield started their strike in early December. It is now the longest gig economy strike in UK history.
The couriers were outraged that their minimum delivery pay was to be cut from £4.50 to £3.40 – a cut of 24%.Stuart chief executive Damien Bon is on a £2.2m salary and has incensed his employees by dismissing the strike action as ‘counter productive’. Instead couriers demanded that the minimum be increased to £6 plus other improvements such as pay for waiting time. Waiting time is currently entirely unpaid.
The strike started with daily evening strikes at McDonalds branches in Sheffield with picket lines of couriers and supporters of trade unionists, students and socialists including Socialist Alternative members. The managers of some branches when approached agreed to turn off the Just Eat app meaning no deliveries from the outlet that evening.
It was understood from the start that the strike would need to spread; the pay cut is a national issue. Only days into the strike Chesterfield came out and then many other areas.
Sheffield couriers have held frequent meetings to discuss and agree on strategy. When they decided to focus on Greggs they started daytime daily pickets. City centre shoppers seeing banners such as ‘Just Eat Stuart Pay Rise not a Pay Cut’ and ‘1000% increase for Stuart’s CEO 24% cut for couriers,’ stopped to ask about the dispute.
Now with much higher petrol prices and general inflation the couriers say they need their pay restoring and increasing more than ever. They have to provide their own cars, pay for petrol, repairs and insurance all out of their fees.
As well as pickets several rallies of couriers and supporters have been held. Now Stuart Delivery’s other customers, such as Lush and Brewdog are being targeted with protests to widen out the impact.
On February 14, couriers at Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, went out on strike between 11am and 11pm on the day. The strikes have continued on a weekly basis and are now spreading to nearby outlets, involving more couriers. This is an extremely complicated business to unionise.
Couriers do not come into regular contact with each other in a workplace and are scattered across the whole area. The vast majority are from minority ethnic backgrounds and have to take other jobs to sustain their livelihoods, or work ridiculously long hours.
Socialist Alternative members have sustained the strikers with solidarity visits and spreading the word to the wider trade union movement. Within the first hour of the strike action, McDonalds had been forced to stop all deliveries for the day due to no delivery couriers coming to take any order. On each strike day, the strikers estimate this would cost this particular outlet around £7,000-£8,000.
As well as the strike disrupting the local McDonalds delivery orders, workers in the nearby Costa have shown solidarity by turning off their delivery order system. The strikers also showed remarkable political awareness about the whole situation, blaming the cut in their pay on the system as a whole and wanting to expand the strike action to other nearby establishments.
This is a war of attrition being waged by the workers against the goliath of huge and powerful multinationals. They are showing remarkable determination and unity against such odds and deserve the support of the whole movement to win proper pay justice and improved working conditions.
As well as a decent living wage the strikers are demanding the cancellation of unfair insurance suspensions, since some couriers have been unable to properly upload insurance documents and have found themselves suspended without pay. This is a glitch in the system which they expect couriers to pay for!
Freezing temperatures did not deter Just Eat couriers from gathering for a street meeting outside the Market Street McDonald’s in Leicester on Thursday February 24. Around ten workers were in attendance. Although small in number, this represented a positive step by the IWGB in bringing together an otherwise scattered and unorganised workforce.
A speaker from the ongoing Stuart Delivery strike in Sheffield addressed the meeting about how targeted pickets of their clients, such as McDonalds and Greggs, could be used as leverage on their employer. A Socialist Alternative member also spoke, bringing solidarity from the local trade union movement and a commitment to fight alongside the workers.
Some raised concerns about possible punitive action by Stuart Delivery for refusing to deliver on behalf of a client; however, the suggested approach was to simply refuse to pick up deliveries with the client – something that it is entirely within their rights to do. In this way, Just Eat couriers are weaponising the very precarity of their employment, their ‘gig’ status, as a tool against their bosses. A first day of action was named for the following Monday February 28.
On the day, workers and supporters stood at the entrance of Greggs, asking couriers who approached the restaurant to refuse to take jobs on that day and calling on workers to join and become active in the union.
One courier spoke of the urgent need to get organised, and to unite all workers to fight for basic humane treatment by their employer. He also explained that this struggle is not just about couriers, but about the need to democratise all workplaces.
Significantly, in a brilliant show of solidarity, UCU members from the University of Leicester, who were then on strike against, amongst other things, precarity, also came to join the picket, along with members of Leicester and District Trades Union Council.
On 17 May a nationwide couriers’ day of action was held with areas from the South coast to Newcastle taking part. This wasn’t only Just Eat couriers but also Uber Eats. Couriers for this app are wanting better pay plus sick pay, paid holidays and pensions.
There needs to be a coordinated struggle across the courier sector, with the official trade union movement mobilising full support including mobilising their members in place they organise with ballots for action where possible, with a demand for a secured contract with a £15 minimum wage for all.