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‘Listen to us’: Deliveroo drivers on strike over pay and working hours

Deliveroo drivers staging a strike outside the company's main office in Sheung Wan. Photo via Vicky Wong.

If you live or work on Hong Kong Island and have been experiencing problems getting a meal via Deliveroo today, this might be the reason why.

This afternoon, Coconuts HK spotted about 50 to 60 drivers for the London-based startup — mostly South Asian — on strike just around the corner from the company’s Hong Kong office on Jervois Street.

The drivers told Coconuts HK that they are striking over new rules that could see them working fewer hours, and be left down as much as HK$2,000 to HK$3,000 (about US$256 to US$384) each month.

One of the drivers on strike, who only gave his last name as Khan, told Coconuts HK: “Normally we are self-employed, but now the way things are looking, [is] they are employing us, but they are not giving us the employment benefits. We’re not getting MPF (mandatory provident fund), we’re not getting insurance, we’re all on our own. But self-employed means we want to work when we want, not when they tell us.”

Khan added that on Saturday, 10 drivers went to Deliveroo’s Hong Kong office to talk about their concerns over the new rules, but the company would only speak to three of the 10 drivers.

After the talks failed, Khan said, the drivers then told 300 Deliveroo drivers standing outside the office that “nothing happened,” prompting the drivers to strike yesterday and today.

He called on Deliveroo to “listen to us,” adding that strike action could last for more than a week unless the company listens to their concerns.

Deliveroo drivers are technically self-employed, which means they have to provide their own transport, maintenance costs for their vehicles, insurance, mobile phones, and so on in order to do deliveries. According to Apple DailyDeliveroo drivers are paid an hourly rate of about HK$75 (less than US$10).

Coconuts HK spotted more than 50 Deliveroo drivers striking in Sheung Wan yesterday evening, while Apple Daily reported that up to 100 drivers were spotted waiting outside the company’s office last night until police turned up to break up the strike before 7pm.

According to drivers who spoke to hk01, Deliveroo is looking at introducing new rules that would allow them to decide, at their discretion, how many drivers will be needed to carry out deliveries for certain time periods.

If a driver is needed, the company will put them “online,” and any drivers that are not needed for the moment will be forced “offline.” While drivers are currently paid by the hour, even if on standby status, being put “offline” means they would earn nothing until activated again.

The company also reportedly launched a new e-platform for drivers that will allow them to choose which time periods they want to work and what locations they prefer as well as better track their deliveries and income details.

Deliveroo is also reportedly looking at a grading system in which such things as late delivery of meals or poor working attitude would carry penalty points used toward evaluating performance.

However, drivers are concerned that the new rules will effectively lead to less flexible working hours, and see some drivers working three to five hours less on average.

As for the grading system, some are worried the company will use it as an excuse to reduce working hours and wages.

So it looks like the strike might go on for a bit, but for those of you who rely on Deliveroo to feed you, you might have to get used to seeing this message on your app for a little while longer.

Hong Kong, by the way, isn’t the only place that the London-based startup has unhappy drivers. On Saturday, Deliveroo drivers in Belgium and the Netherlands went on strike after the company refused to delay its decision to treat all workers as self-employed starting from February.

In August 2016, Deliveroo drivers in London protested against a new pay structure that would see drivers paid per delivery instead of per hour.

Deliveroo sent Coconuts HK a statement* saying that they have “initiated extensive and constructive dialogues with various groups of riders to discuss their feedback on the new availability tool” and that they are “committed to offering flexibility and well-paid work”.

The company stressed that: “Allocation of working hours will not be adversely impacted by issues that are outside of the riders’ control such as exceptional circumstances like bike breakdown or theft, road collisions, extreme weather conditions and robbery of vehicle or phone.”

They added that Deliveroo partially resumed delivery service in affected areas from 6:30pm yesterday to “ensure that the vast majority of the riders who see the benefits of the tool do not lose out on precious hours and their earnings.”

*This article has been updated to include comments from Deliveroo.