On Monday, couriers in Sheffield and Blackpool relaunched industrial action to picket McDonald’s branches every day this week in what has become the UK’s longest ever gig economy pay strike.
Supported by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), the couriers’ strike was launched in December after Stuart, a company that delivers on behalf of JustEat, cut its base pay per delivery by a dramatic 24%, reducing it to just £3.40 for each delivery made. JustEat says its partnership with McDonald’s has been key to its UK growth.
After a massive increase in the use of delivery services throughout the pandemic, workers are demanding a pay rise instead of a pay cut. The failure of such companies to ensure fair working conditions for couriers breaches Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expands on this, including rights to gain a living by work; the enjoyment of just and favourable working conditions; fair wages to earn a decent living for workers and their families, including so that they can afford adequate food, clothing and housing; to form and join trade unions; and to strike.
“Sheffield will not stand idly by while JustEat and Stuart exploit and ignore our key workers,” said Olivia Blake, MP for Sheffield Hallam.
“Their families must not be allowed to pay the price for Stuart’s corporate greed. On behalf of our city, I call on them to do the right thing: reverse the pay cut and sit down to talk with the IWGB.”
Instead of meeting with unionised workers, Stuart held closed-door meetings on pay and only invited selected riders to attend. As IWGB members gathered outside the building in Sheffield to demonstrate peacefully against cuts, the venue’s security guards informed them that the meeting had been cancelled and Stuart staff had avoided protesters by exiting the building via fire escape.
“The sign of a good employer is allowing workers to organise, unionise, elect workplace reps and to engage with them in order to resolve workplace issues,” said Alex Marshall, president of IWGB. “Currently, Stuart Delivery is doing everything it can to avoid this, which speaks volumes about the company. It’s time for Stuart to come to the table and negotiate.”
Strike action commenced on 6 December 2021 and protests spread to Chesterfield and Sunderland. The workforce, which is largely made up of members of minority ethnic groups, is demanding an increase in pay to at least £6 per delivery, plus mileage, as well as pay for waiting times longer than ten minutes. Their strike fund has now raised almost £14,000.
On behalf of over 150 couriers nationwide, the IWGB is also bringing a claim against Stuart for an unlawful denial of worker status and basic rights, including holiday pay and guaranteed minimum wage.
“Stuart CEO Damien Bon’s salary soared to over £2 million due to booming profits during the pandemic,” added Marshall. “However, the very workers who risked their lives daily to provide a vital service for the public are seeing pay slashed. These heroes deserve a pay rise too.”
While Stuart couriers have struggled to live on poverty pay without basic workers’ rights, the corporation saw a £20 million increase in profits at the height of the pandemic.
“I just want to say thank you for the overwhelming support we’ve received from our union as well as members of parliament and the public,” said Parirs Dixon, Chair of the Sheffield Couriers & Logistics Branch (IWGB). “We are not alone in the shadows any more and there is no going back. The strike will continue until we are heard.”