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No warning, no recourse: courier experiences of employment termination

Courier Insights Series: Deactivations

In July, in the third instalment of our courier insights series, we asked app-couriers in the UK about their experiences of dismissal.

Here is what we found…

Of those we surveyed, more than 55% had had been dismissed by a platform they worked for.

Most commonly, dismissals were by Just Eat, followed by Uber Eats. This reflects the trends we see in our own casework – 52% of courier account terminations seen by WIE have been from Just Eat, with Uber Eats accounting for a further 29% of the terminations we’ve seen. Deliveroo comes in third, at 12%, and we see the fewest terminations by Stuart, at 7%.

Don’t assume however that these results reflect better working practices at Deliveroo and Stuart then Just Eat and Uber Eats - rather, these results reflect the market share held by each company in the UK, as reported by Medium in 2021.

Those who had experienced dismissal were given a broad range of reasons…

…and every courier reported that their termination was permanent.

Only 15% of those surveyed were given any kind of warning prior to the termination of their account.

Even less, only 5% of survey respondents, reported that their platform gave them an opportunity to share their perspective regarding the decision to dismiss them.

80% of respondents did not understand why they lost their account access...

...and 95% felt that the decision to dismiss them was unfair.

When asked to share how their dismissal had impacted them financially, respondents across the board reported that they were financially worse off.

Respondents used words such as “hardship”, “struggle” and “crisis”, to describe the impact of lost pay following dismissal. One respondent reported that they had got into debt as a result of the loss of their account, whilst others mentioned being unable to pay their bills.

It was noted that the loss of pay was worse given the current cost of living crisis. One respondent noted the impact on their family, and another the need to increase their hours in another job in order to make ends meet. One individual described losing their account as “life changing”.

When asked about the impact of their dismissal on their mental health, respondents reported a range of negative emotions, including increased stress and pressure, depression, anxiety, anger, and frustration.

The graph below shows some of the words used by respondents, with the size of the circle corresponding to the number of times a particular word was mentioned in the answers we received.

The results of this survey show that, whether platforms want to admit it or not, workers rely on the pay they receive from their platform work in order to get by, and the loss of this places huge strain on these individuals. When a courier is dismissed, this is generally permanent, and they do not have the opportunity to challenge it, or even explain their perspective to their platforms, regarding the decision made.

Platforms are getting away with this behaviour as a result of employment misclassification – the classification of their workers as self-employed contractors, as opposed to employees (or at a minimum, workers) – despite the fact that these workers are in fact subjected to tight management controls, a reality which undermines their status as “self-employed”. Through misclassification, platforms dodge their employment rights obligations, and workers are left unprotected from unfair dismissals.

We will explore the controls that couriers are subjected to in our next insights survey, covering algorithmic management of worker behaviour.


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