“In the ideal world of the delivery platforms, we would say nothing, just smile politely, “Hello, sir”, “Goodbye”, get on our bikes, make our deliveries, never fall, never have an accident, never make a complaint […]. We used to pay you €5, now it’s €2.60, what are you going to do about it? On you go, chop chop! Make sure the food stays hot, ignore red lights, and don’t die please!”
This testimony from a young delivery rider illustrates the subordination that is central to an ecosystem in which algorithms call all the shots.
What needs to be done for these workers, exposed to various different risks? What do they need in terms of social protection?
These questions are very much central to the debate around the planned finance law for social security for 2022. First proposed back in September, its aim is to improve social protection for self-employed workers, but the improvements put forward don’t seem to factor in the mishaps which can befall delivery riders.
We asked them about their needs and the difficulties they face via an online questionnaire. 219 delivery drivers active in France during the pandemic responded, 15 of whom were interviewed.
The delivery riders who responded to our questionnaire are young (3 out of 4 are under 30 years of age) and don’t earn very much: half of them make less than €900/month before tax. Although half are logged on between 20 and 40 hours a week, they don’t get paid for time spent waiting on orders, which prevents many of them from taking on another job (for 60% of them, this is their only source of work). Before working as delivery riders, 37% were unemployed, this group most likely to have done this work for more than 3 years.
Their preferred mode of transport is push bike (37%) followed by electric bike (26%). Riders on push bikes earn less than the others (22% earn less than €900/month), while the majority of delivery riders who use another mode of transport earn slightly more.
The risks of the job
“I was hit by a pedestrian and broke my hand. I didn’t realise I had broken anything, and so I kept working. […] there are a lot of delivery riders […] who keep working with broken bones because they have to for financial reasons, or because they don’t have any social security allowing them to take time off to recover.” (Interview n°3)
This account illustrates the physical and financial vulnerability which affects many delivery riders. Only 31% of them have never experienced health difficulties as a result of their work. 70% have issues with traffic and parking, 61% have significant issues because of time spent waiting to be allocated a route, and 68% have significant issues because of time spent waiting for orders to be prepared. We don’t know exactly how many accidents have befallen riders or how many have died, but the delivery rider community is starting to come together to take action.
Are delivery riders treated properly?
The vulnerability of delivery riders depends on the risks they are exposed to and what protections they have in place (e.g. a salary, family health insurance, etc.).
According to our survey, the most vulnerable delivery riders (V4) are the most exposed and have the least protection (the unemployed, illegal immigrants, long-term delivery riders, etc.). These highly vulnerable delivery riders are part of the 32% who told us they did not have any social security coverage, and aren’t aware of all of their rights (25% of delivery riders who responded to our questionnaire didn’t know if they had any social security coverage). They generally don’t inform their employer if they have any issues (57% didn’t make the company aware about accident or illness). Among those who did, 61% were given no assistance, and what was on offer didn’t compensate for the lack of income as a result of them being off work:
“There’s no point. I knew full well that the self-employment benefits would cover nothing or practically nothing. I knew that the top-up health coverage policies with the platforms are very low-cost contracts, even extremely low-cost, and I knew there would be no point making a claim.” (Interview n°2)
A “dirty job”
The variable geometry of the vulnerability of workers doing this “dirty job” have to face is down in no small part to the “paltry” social protection they get.
This legal and institutional void benefits platforms, some of whom have been taken to court for off-the-books work.
In Spain the law was changed in August 2021 to make it that every delivery rider is considered an employee. This resolution to the precarity brought about through the gig-economy, a pressing social issue of our times, has support in France from unions and collectives of delivery riders, but also from the EU Parliament:
“The coverage, suitability and formal and effective transparency of social protection must apply to all workers, including the self-employed.”
Bear in mind that 97% of the delivery riders who responded to our questionnaire were registered self-employed.
Morgane Le Guern from the MGEN Corporate Foundation for Public Health contributed to this article.