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The food home delivery companies' new free login system increases couriers' job insecurity
  riders

This free login system technically enables the platform's couriers to log in to their mobile application whenever, wherever and as often as they want. (Photo: Unsplash/Rowan Freeman)

11/01/2022
Pablo Ramos

A study led by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya analyses the free login model for couriers which has recently been implemented based on a discourse of flexibility and autonomy

Companies providing home deliveries of food and groceries have grown exponentially in recent years, especially in large cities, in particular during the pandemic caused by COVID-19. Spain's recently approved 'rider law', which establishes a principle involving a presumption of employment, has been countered by various responses from companies such as UberEats and JustEat. 

These companies had already been trialling various personnel management models since their inception. It is in this context that platforms such as Glovo, using arguments involving making employment more flexible and providing freedom to choose working hours and the working area, have recently rolled out a new free login registration system for their couriers.

In the wake of these changes, a team of researchers from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) has analysed this free login model for couriers, and has concluded that the free login system further aggravates the job insecurity of 'riders' or couriers. It is a system similar to the one that Deliveroo introduced before exiting the Spanish market, based on making it technically possible for riders to connect to the company's app whenever, wherever and however often they like.

"The introduction of the free login system ended up creating even more unstable types of work because the remuneration was reduced," explained Melissa Renau, a predoctoral researcher at the UOC's Doctoral School, and an expert belonging to the Dimmons research group of the IN3-UOC and the lead author of this study, which is part of the H2020 PLUS project (Platform Labour in Urban Spaces) involving thirteen partners from all over Europe, investigating working conditions in four sectors of the platform economy, namely Airbnb, Deliveroo, Uber and Helpling in seven different European cities.

 

Instability in the sector during the pandemic


This decline in couriers' working conditions has intensified during the pandemic, and since April 2020 in particular. In specific terms, the lockdown led many restaurants to adopt the food home delivery format and to use this type of platform, since it was one of the few revenue channels available during those months. Customers also made more use of delivery platforms in this period. Indeed, estimates suggest that during the pandemic, food home delivery orders increased by more than 40%, and the number of restaurants offering this type of service also increased, according to the latest Gastrómetro study for 2021.

At the beginning of the second quarter of 2020, Deliveroo, the delivery platform that has recently left the Spanish market, took advantage of the situation to make a change in its login system. 

In March 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the platform carried out an update to the application that technically enabled the platform's couriers to log in to their mobile application whenever, wherever and as often as they wanted. Counterintuitively, instead of improving the couriers' freedom and flexibility, this change ended up creating even more instability and insecurity in their work. Since the introduction of the rider law, other companies that are still operating in the Spanish market, such as Glovo, have been introducing systems that partially replicate the model that Deliveroo introduced in 2020.

These companies took advantage of the onset of the pandemic to introduce a reduction in the total payment. "During this period, they reduced the minimum payment per delivery and carried out disproportionate recruitment campaigns that reduced the average number of orders available per courier," said Renau. Likewise, due to the excess supply of platform couriers and the workings of the application's algorithm, the distance per delivery was also significantly decreased, which also reduced paid work time.

"In addition to the lack of transparency about the algorithm, the platform's riders have no say in the payment system that determines not only how much a courier is paid per delivery, but also which tasks are paid for", warned the researcher. 

Experts estimate that Spain's online food home delivery sector will have a turnover of more than one billion euros in 2021, 16% more than in 2020, in the middle of the pandemic. 

 

How free login works


Deliveroo argues that this system allows couriers to adjust and change their working hours with more freedom, as they do not have to plan their schedules two weeks in advance. It also eliminates prior requirements, and allows riders to start working in different districts of the city, rather than limiting themselves to a specific area. "However, in practice these advantages don't provide the benefits for the workers that they were supposed to introduce," said the expert. 

For example, the ability to decide when to log in and out of the platform using this model is not enough to increase workers' flexibility and freedom. "Using the free login system doesn't mean the platform's couriers have total control over their time," the expert said. 

Likewise, there are always more people connected with the 'free login' model, meaning that there are fewer orders per person, especially at peak times. "What's more, there are no maximum working hours with this system, and although there's no obligation to log in and work in a specific area, most couriers will always be located in high demand areas, so the courier isn't 100% free to start wherever they want," argued Renau.

 

Possible solutions 


Faced with this new situation in the sector, which is increasingly digitized and subject to growing demand from consumers in large cities, the experts say that it is essential not only to guarantee the safety and quality of the workers' employment, but also to prevent the existing companies from stopping other similar businesses from emerging in the sector. 

The various measures making up the European Commission's proposals to improve the working conditions of people working through digital labour platforms fall within this area. The proposed directive, which consists of more than twenty articles, must be incorporated into Spanish legislation within two years of its entry into force. Although Spain's rider law has already anticipated some of the aspects included in the directive such as the presumption of an employment relationship, other aspects such as transparency of algorithms are covered in greater depth in the directive.

"It's important to ensure that competition law does not hinder the emergence and growth of organizations that place workers' interest at the centre of their activities," said the author of the study, who concluded that, among other measures, the authorities need to clarify what is considered real working time in the platform economy. 

"Working time should be considered as the entire period in which the worker is available to the platform," emphasized Renau. 

 

This UOC research contributes to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 8, decent work and economic growth; 10, reduced inequalities; and 11, sustainable cities and communities.

 

Reference

Cano, Melissa Renau, et al. "Flexibility and Freedom for Whom? Precarity, Freedom and Flexibility in on-Demand Food Delivery." Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation, vol. 15, no. 1, Pluto Journals, 2021, pp. 46–68, https://doi.org/10.13169/workorgalaboglob.15.1.0046.

 

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UOC experts

Melissa Renau

A predoctoral researcher at the UOC's Doctoral School, and an expert belonging to the Dimmons research group of the IN3-UOC

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