Just Eat relied on faulty automated decision-making to robo-fire workers without adequate explanation or right of appeal.
Just Eat’s reliance on poor technology and process design contributed to false allegations being levelled against innocent workers.
When workers attempted to use third party automated tools to book shifts they were punished with unfair automated dismissal.
Just Eat’s use of the controversial ‘substitution clause’ to avoid employment classification leads to workers being placed at risk of modern slavery.
The British government’s failure to bring forward a long promised employment bill while at the same time weakening protections against harmful automated decision-making is leading to a further deterioration in already catastrophic gig economy worker conditions.
The report analyses the circumstances leading to the summary dismissals of eleven Just Eat couriers working in nine cities across the UK after allegations of fraudulent activity.
Algorithmic abuse and robo-firings
The workers were falsely accused of receiving ‘undeserved financial gain’ relating to nominal waiting time payments at restaurants such as McDonalds. Just Eat alleged that the workers left the restaurant while continuing to claim waiting fees for the delays. However, in each of the cases, workers had stayed in the vicinity of the restaurant, usually in the car park, as evidenced by the GPS data retrieved from Just Eat. In each case, the worker collected the food and completed the delivery so there was no question of any genuine fraudulent activity. The average value of the disputed, alleged ‘undeserved payments’ justifying the summary robo-firings was just £1.44.
When challenged under the provisions of the Data Protection Act to provide details of the data processing resulting in the false allegations, Just Eat could not provide any evidence of wrongdoing. Where complete data records were provided, the evidence indicated that the workers had not done anything wrong. In each case, Just Eat failed to meet the legal requirements of data access and explanation. When Just Eat were challenged to explain how their fraud detection systems had come to such erroneous conclusions, Just Eat refused to explain claiming that such information is a ‘trade secret’ and would jeopardise their security. In a ruling handed down against Uber at the Amsterdam Court of Appeal earlier this month, the court rejected trade secrets and platform security arguments as justification for the failure to explain worker dismissals.
Ironically, when some workers attempted to subject Just Eat to automated decision-making themselves in selecting their shifts, they were summarily dismissed for fraudulent activity.
Poor design and use of Just Eat technology to manage workers
The report also highlights how poor technology design, poor operational processes and management incompetence at Just Eat contributed to creating a work environment where workers are placed at risk of flawed fraud detection systems generating false allegations against vulnerable workers.
Modern slavery risk
Just Eat has taken advantage of substitution clauses to avoid employer obligations and as a consequence, vulnerable workers have been placed at risk. Some gig-economy employers believe that providing a right of substitution gives them a viable legal defence against future employment claims.
In one case, a worker was dismissed because Just Eat claimed the bank account they used to receive payment from Just Eat was linked to 49 other workers. This is a clear risk indicator for modern slavery conditions which Just Eat ought to have addressed earlier. But rather than treat the at-risk workers with empathy, respect and dignity, Just Eat appears to have simply dismissed everyone who had used a shared bank account.
Recently, Just Eat reneged on its prior commitment to respect the right of some of their workers to claim basic employment rights. The food delivery app company is currently sacking these workers and has returned to a policy of misclassifying their workers as independent contractors.
Government complicit in crisis of brutal exploitation of workers Since 2015, the government has failed to deliver on the promise of an employment bill including provisions to protect gig-economy workers. If that wasn’t bad enough, in the Data Protection and Digital Information bill now at committee stage, the government is dismantling and watering down vital data protection measures, including protections from unfair automated decision-making such as illustrated in this report. As a result, gig-economy workers - particularly food delivery workers - are at risk of seeing their working conditions deteriorate further from the prevailing sweated labour conditions to modern slavery conditions. Read the report at: https://www.workerinfoexchange.org/just-eat-report
Cansu Safak, Researcher at Worker Info Exchange said:
“Just Eat relies on sophisticated systems for tracking and monitoring every move of the workers but fails to provide a functional app that enables workers to do their jobs. It’s a stark demonstration of who and what this technology is designed for. The underlying issue here is that even if this set of cases are resolved, Just Eat’s practices are unlikely to change, since they lack the incentive to resource internal management functions. We see this not just in the cases presented in this report but across all of the food delivery platforms. All of these companies are using automated decision-making and hiding it behind trade secrecy arguments. This situation leaves workers in the impossible position of trying to defend their innocence against an incomprehensible surveillance system that the platform claims has been human reviewed, even if evidence of this review is completely lacking. Just Eat’s approach to providing evidence is ‘Just take out word for it.’”
James Farrar, Director of Worker Info Exchange said:
“The government seems intensely relaxed about the downward spiral of working conditions for food delivery workers to the point that many can now be said to be at risk of modern slavery. Rather than meet their commitment to bring forward long promised employment protections for gig workers, the government instead seems intent on pulling the threadbare rug from beneath them by stripping away and watering down vital data protections including the right not to be robo-fired and the right to be properly informed about algorithmic management at work. We were promised post Brexit benefits but while the EU is progressing necessary protections for gig workers with the platform work directive, British gig workers are facing a brutal future working life.”