Pedal to the metal: The reality of delivery riders under an algorithmic employer

Throughout lockdown, concerns over employment have shocked the nation into taking up part-time roles. However, for some, delivery roles within companies such as Deliveroo are considered a main source of income. With delivery riders operating under a new business model, it has been proven that many consequences have begun to shine through. 

This business model is best understood through what is known as a ‘gig economy’, wherein individual workers are employed for short ‘gigs’ that help perpetuate a free-market system. Deliveroo is known to be a leading competitor in this field, hiring 30,000 drivers and riders in a 3 year period. To contextualise the recent allegations against the company, understanding the system is key to unveiling the flaws buried deep within its design. 

Deliveroo was originally established in 2013 as a delivery service that connected the user to an array of restaurants through what is known as a ‘rider.’ Taking the delivery out of the equation, Deliveroo took a commission of 25-45% as a way to make a profit. However, with the role of the rider playing a key function in the logistics of the business, their income is considered a little far-fetched. 

Pay for delivery riders is categorised into three distinct incomes: A £2 pickup fee, a £1 delivery fee and a variable distance fee. However, a rider must pay a deposit of £150 which has harvested the company a total of £3 million according to the Financial Times. Whilst riders are not earning a clear-cut salary, many critics coined this as a form of ‘Algorithmic Management’, in which riders are employed by an app rather than an accountable employer. 

Deliveroo drivers stage demonstration in London – via Guardian

Despite this, many individuals have claimed that this business model provides people with the opportunity to make money in their own time, as work hours are controlled from an on/off button located on the Deliveroo app. Others would suggest that this has caused many issues for workers whose incomes have become intertwined with a piece of software.

In a report conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalists using riders’ invoices, the 2020-2021 financial year proved that algorithmic management has systematic flaws. A sample of 11,611 invoices from a total of 318 Riders shows that 5282 delivery sessions were completed below the minimum wage. This number equates to a total of 41% of riders. Regional data for Yorkshire and Humber show how that 45% of riders were operating below the minimum wage. 

As a result of this, Deliveroo’s first day as a public company operating on the stock market saw protests hit the streets of London and across the country. Upwards of 200 drivers had refused to make deliveries in a response to the report’s findings and demand for more equal and fair pay. Ever since the Supreme Court’s ruling in February, which called for Uber to classify its drivers as employed workers, there has been ramped pressure for businesses operating under the gig economy to follow suit. 

However, for many riders working under the conditions that Deliveroo have created, there has been little response from the company regarding the protection of worker’s rights. Analysts have predicted a dive in stock of up to 40%. 

Whilst circumstances surrounding the company and its workers have come off as pessimistic, recent news has shown that the UK’s competition regulator has accepted minority investments in Deliveroo by giants such as Amazon. While many startup businesses operating under a profit-loss has been a trend in the business world, investments from competitors and companies may prove beneficial for the delivery riders who have endured working under an unpredictable algorithm. 

With the reports highlighting a complete disregard for worker’s rights, there is a clear need for a system in which accountability is taken from the top, rather than an app; one proven to affect many full-time riders. The lessons that can be learned must be implemented to prevent the exploitation of workers, a promise the government swore to protect. 

Featured image via Sky.