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Bolt and Amazon worst on gig economy working conditions, Oxford University says

Only two of the platforms surveyed were able to show they ensure riders get the minimum wage.

By Freya Pratty

Bolt and Amazon offer the worst working conditions for gig economy workers in the UK, a new report says.

The report, released Tuesday by researchers at Oxford University, rates eleven of the UK’s most popular digital labour platforms — including Uber, JustEat and Deliveroo — on fair pay, fair representation and fair working conditions.

The findings come as the UK’s gig economy continues to grow. In 2019, 4.7m people were working on gig economy platforms but, as the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of online delivery services, the current figure is estimated to be significantly higher.

Companies were scored out of ten on criteria including: if they pay the minimum wage, if they have a system in place workers can appeal decisions, if they have transparent contracts and if they promote the health and safety of workers.

Ride hailing app and food delivery service Bolt — as well as Amazon Flex, the delivery arm of Amazon — both scored zero, meaning they failed on all categories. Estonian-headquartered Bolt has been a VC darling over the past few years, cinching unicorn status and pledging to dethrone Uber.

The best performing company was PedalMe, a British e-cargo and pedicab business.

Fair pay

Only two platforms, PedalMe and Just Eat were able to show they ensure riders get the minimum wage after costs for the employee are taken into account.

PedalMe hires workers through an employment contract while Just Eat hires them through a temping agency. A lot of platforms hire people as self-employed contractors, rather than bringing them on as actual employees.

One driver interviewed for the report, who works for Uber, Bolt and Ola, said he was earning £30 a day working 10-12 hours. Workers are often paid for each task completed and, if there’s periods where no tasks are given, the hourly rate can be extremely low. 

“Economically, it’s very expensive to be a platform worker,” says Dalia Gebrial, a researcher who worked on the report. Costs like fuel and vehicle insurance are often externalised to the worker, chipping away at take-home pay.

Fair representation

Only four of the platforms could prove that they have mechanisms in place for workers to appeal decisions made by management. Workers can be removed from some of the platforms without being given proper reasons as to why, as well as then lacking a proper appeals process.

Just one platform, PedalMe, could show it has a mechanism in place to facilitate the expression of workers’ collective voice. The company decided to elect a worker representative and has a policy in place stating its willingness to negotiate with unions. 

Fair conditions

Six out of the ten platforms were able to show that they have protections in place for workers’ health and safety and could provide insurance against work-specific risks. Bolt, Amazon and Ola failed on this front. 

Most of the platforms could also prove that they had conditions in place to allow workers to isolate during the pandemic. 

The workforce

Gebrial also points out that a large proportion of the platform workforce is made up of  minorities or migrant workers.

“The key features of the platform economy, things like misclassification, devolution of risk to the worker and algorithmic management, are being developed and normalised in the most marginalised communities, with an eye to being rolled out across the workforce,” she says.

What’s next?

Speaking on the release of the new findings, Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Unions Congress, said the report shows new platforms using “the age-old practice of worker exploitation.”

“Everyone deserves to be treated fairly at work. But these scores reveal that household names in the gig economy, such as Amazon’s delivery arm Amazon Flex, are failing to meet the most basic requirements on workers’ pay and rights.”

O’Grady highlighted, however, that there are signs of change, particularly after the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year that Uber drivers are not self-employed and are therefore entitled to a minimum wage and working time protections. 

O’Grady also called on ministers to boost workers’ rights and put more legislation in place to protect gig economy workers. 

Freya Pratty is Sifted’s news reporter. She tweets from @FPratty

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