Accidents, stress and uncertainty: food delivery riders lift lid on work conditions

Patrick Psotka says he has been “doored” twice working for Deliveroo and UberEats. Daniel had his ankle twisted four times and his bike crushed. Joaquin ended up in hospital with eight stitches in his leg, the first time he was hurt.

The food delivery industry in Australia is booming, used by a third of adults in capital cities and worth $2.6bn. Three companies are driving the surge: the US-owned UberEats, German-owned Foodora and British-owned Deliveroo.

But current and former riders for the companies have told Guardian Australia they have experienced unsafe weather conditions and uncertain insurance cover for work they consider “poorly paid”, given the instability and conditions.

A survey of 160 riders conducted by the Transport Workers Union in January found 50% had been hurt on the job or knew someone who had. Riders spoke of being hit by taxis, “doored” by cars and of experiencing near misses on a weekly basis.

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Riders – who are taken on as contractors, not employees – said they received little or no training and their inherently dangerous job was often made worse by the pressure to work in poor weather conditions, when demand for deliveries is highest.

Most riders who spoke to Guardian Australia asked for their full name to be withheld.

Tom, a former bicycle deliverer for Foodora and UberEats in Sydney, said a storm always meant his Foodora shifts would be extended. In a city-wide WhatsApp groupchat, the company’s dispatch managers used to ask riders to stay out longer every rainy night, he said.

“We used to get group messages saying ‘Stay safe out there’ and ‘Put your safety first’,” Tom said. “But that’s totally at odds with pumping out orders on a rainy night. It means nothing.”

Josh Klooger, who worked for Foodora for two years in Melbourne, said the company no longer allowed shift extensions of the kind Tom referred to. “You can always ask to be clocked off,” he said. “But people wouldn’t want to to do that because they think they might be looked down upon.”

There is absolutely no obligation for riders to work during bad weather conditions.

Deliveroo spokeswoman

Foodora said: “In the case of bad weather or weather extremes, warnings are issued to riders to promote safe conduct. If riders experience injury or harm, Foodora addresses each situation with care and complies with appropriate work cover.”

Deliveroo said riders were not obliged to work when conditions were bad. “Deliveroo regularly sends out safety alerts to remind riders of road safety or warn of weather conditions,” a spokeswoman said. “There is absolutely no obligation for riders to work during bad weather conditions.”

Klooger was fired by Foodora in March after he refused to grant the company access to a groupchat he had made for riders. An email from Foodora said his contract was being terminated for refusing to comply with a request to return the company’s intellectual property. He is pursuing an unfair dismissal claim with the help of the TWU.

Riders said the training they were offered was often inadequate or non-existent.

Patrick, Tom and Daniel, who all worked for UberEats, said the company provided the least training.

“With Foodora, I got told to follow a PowerPoint presentation they emailed me,” Tom said. “With Uber, they just give you the bag. They don’t tell you anything.”

“You walk into the office and you get the job,” Patrick said. “No training.”

An Uber spokeswoman said riders were provided with “safe bike riding tips”, the app “often includes safety information” and riders were “free to take breaks” during heavy rain.

“The safety of all users of the Uber app is a top priority for Uber … We have a website with safety tips and we are working on further enhancing the information that is made available to delivery partners on road rules and bike safety.”

According to a Foodora spokeswoman and rider contracts, seen by Guardian Australia, Foodora riders are required to do a road safety quiz and are contractually obliged to undertake more advanced tests if Foodora requests.

Deliveroo provides new riders with eight safety videos before they begin and the contract requires them to inform the company within 24 hours if they are involved in an accident or near miss. Deliveroo also prohibits workers from driving or riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

How much do they make?

If you ordered 1 delicious Pad Thais at $15 each from a restaurant roughly 1 kms away, then here’s how much the rider, restaurant and app company makes

UberEats

$20.00

Costs you

$7.28

Rider

$9.75

Restaurant

$2.97

Uber

Deliveroo

$20.00

Costs you

$8.55

Rider

$10.50

Restaurant

$0.95

Deliveroo

Foodora

$20.00

Costs you

$7.00 to $9.00

Rider

$10.50

Restaurant

$0.50 to $2.50

Foodora

All calculations are based on a bicycle deliverer rates in Sydney and Melbourne. The total includes the order value, plus a $5 flat delivery fee. Calculations for restaurants are based on the maximum commission rate. Some restaurants, especially those who joined UberEats earlier, have a lower commission rate. The amount shown for each company is the estimated profit made by each company after a rider is paid. For more detail on the calculations for each company, see here.

Tony Sheldon, the TWU’s national secretary, said the delivery companies were consistently “failing to address the concerns of riders”.

“The on-demand economy is a tired example of old-fashioned exploitation at play in modern Australia. It doesn’t involve ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ work but on-demand piece work, which was abolished in Australia in the early 1900s.”

If riders do get hurt, figuring out what form of insurance they have, and from whom, is tricky. Many simply do not know what happens if they are hurt on the job.

Across the companies, insurance is divided into two categories: for those who deliver by car, and those who deliver by bike. That is then further divided into insurance provided by company or by the worker.

For cars, all three companies require deliverers to have their own third-party vehicle insurance, which is a legal requirement to drive a car in New South Wales.

For bicycle deliverers, only Deliveroo provides insurance for all riders. They are covered for personal injury on the job, for public liability and for lost earnings while recovering and unable to work.

Joaquin, who needed eight stitches in his leg when he was injured on the job, said his entire $1,000 hospital bill was covered by Deliveroo. Workers paid 5% of their income to the company, which covers “administration fees” and contributes marginally to the cost of insurance, a Deliveroo spokeswoman said.

Klooger, who was in charge of inducting new riders for Foodora, said he told them to expect the least.

“When I was inducting people, I would tell them ‘Make sure you have your own insurance’ because I don’t think Foodora is going to support you.”

Instead, Foodora bicycle riders are required to take out their own insurance by buying a membership of Bicycle NSW. This provides them with personal injury and public liability insurance, at their own cost.

Uber does not provide bicycle riders with any insurance, nor does it make them buy their own. An Uber spokeswoman said: “Uber’s incident response team is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to reported incidents globally via in-app help. All incidents are assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

To become a deliverer by car or motorbike, Uber requires documentation of driver’s license, passport or birth certificate, and insurance. To become a deliverer by bicycle, it only requires passport and birth certificate, and another form of ID.

Riders told Guardian Australia their insurance was never checked or mentioned. Pstoka said he had “zero idea what would happen if I got hospitalised riding for UberEats. Zero.”