'Horrific hunger games': Protesters accuse Uber Eats of being a wage cheat

Uber Eats riders and drivers held a major protest on Tuesday.

Uber food delivery riders and drivers protested at the company's Australian headquarters on Tuesday, claiming they're owed millions of dollars in wages and other entitlements.

According to unions, there are unpaid wages, sick leave, annual leave and missing superannuation payments.

Paolo was a delivery driver with another company but turned up to this protest hoping to support Uber drivers.

"Every year they decrease the price of each delivery. One year ago it was $14, after it was $10 per delivery, now it's $8 per delivery. If this continues the same way maybe next year it's going to be $6 each delivery," he said.

Uber Eats is just one of a number of food delivery services operating in Australia.

Most riders are independent contractors, which means they're not given employee entitlements such as award wages, superannuation and workers’ compensation.

The Transport Workers Union said a survey of riders carried out last year showed three out of four are paid below minimum wage rates.

Tony Sheldon, the TWU’s on-demand economy coordinator, slammed the company and others like it.

"We are finding that these companies are just arbitrarily deciding that they are not going to pay wages, they are going to call them contractors then pay them below the minimum wage, not pay them when they are injured at work and take no responsibility on how their work flows during the day.

A rider at the Tuesday's protest.
Source: SBS News

"This is a horrific hunger games that companies are now entering into and there are tens of thousands of people that are operating in this way."

Accidents are also part of daily life for riders, with the union claiming almost 50 per cent have been injured or know someone who has been injured on the job.

Three delivery riders have also been killed while working.

Originally from Brazil, Paolo, who worked for Deliveroo, broke his hand while on the job, but his medical treatment was covered by Deliveroo.

"We pay like 5 per cent of each delivery we pay for insurance and with this insurance we can go to the hospital and everything was paid for with this insurance."

Many riders are international students, or recent migrants, who may have few other employment options.

Bijay Sapkota is the National President at the Council of International Students Australia.

He said many of those affected by the working conditions in the food delivery industry are working under conditions that most Australians would not tolerate.

"More than 70 per cent of the workers who have been exploited by Uber Eats and other food delivery companies are international students. I think governments should work more to get these big corporations accountable of what they are doing.

"Accountable of the wage that they offer, accountable of the compensations that they need to give, accountable of the wage that they need to deliver to international students in Australia."

In a statement, the regional manager for Uber Eats ANZ, Jodie Auster, said Uber was interested in working with Australian governments and stakeholders on reforms in this area.

"This includes looking at how to modernise protections for independent workers, providing greater support for lifelong learning, better targeting of transitional support and stronger credentialing to name a few.

"This is a complex policy area and any reforms will require input from workers, the community and business."

A Foodora delivery bike rider in Sydney.
Source: AAP

The protest comes as up to 5,500 former Foodora delivery riders look set to get back-pay after Foodora quit Australia last year owing riders and the tax department more than $8 million.

Leo, an international student from Brazil, has been a delivery driver for two years and says from the beginning he felt more could be done to improve conditions for drivers and riders.

He said the payout from Foodora proves that there needs to be reform in the industry.

"If things were not so wrong and if all the claims that we are having are not so good, we would Foodora pay us so much money this week. So something is wrong in this market and we are trying to change it."

Published 14 May 2019 at 8:10pm, updated 14 May 2019 at 8:59pm
By Peggy Giakoumelos