Strikes at Wolt have taken place in at least eight European countries since the start of the year, with four occurring in the past week. Why are the riders taking action now? The Gig Economy Project takes a look.
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Photo: Lieferando Workers Collective (LWC) Berlin
SINCE January, strikes at Wolt have been spreading like wildfire. The Gig Economy Project has either read about or spoken to someone involved in a strike in 2023 at the Finnish-founded food delivery platform in the following eight countries: Czech Republic, Greece, Denmark, Finland, Georgia, Croatia, Germany and Serbia. Four of those strikes have taken place this week.
Many of these strikes are linked together by the hashtag #ReWolt and the reasons for them are very similar: the introduction of a new payment system which has substantially lowered pay.
In some of these countries, the new payment system introduced is based on ‘dynamic pricing’, whereby the pay rate per delivery is decided through various data inputs, meaning there is no longer a clear link between pay and distance travelled.
The Gig Economy Project has seen Wolt’s amendment to its Finnish service contract, which was signed on 17 January by Lauri Hallavo, the Finnish operations manager, and began taking effect from 24 January.
The new contract states that the data inputs which shape the new algorithmically-determined pay rate “includes, for example, distance, weather conditions, the size of delivery, the location of the merchant and the time of day”. Note the word “for example”: riders do not know what other data inputs may be included, which could include – for example – their personal account history of acceptance rates for deliveries.
READ MORE: Is ‘dynamic pricing’ ripping-off gig workers?
The contract makes clear that the rider will be kept in the dark about what data goes into making up the new pay rate: “[The] Courier Partner will not be notified about the specific parameters and/or the changes in the parameters affecting the fee offered”.
And to make absolutely clear that there is no longer any means by which the riders can objectively understand what logic dictates their pay rates, the contract states: “Due to these changes, the previous fee tables illustrating the method of calculating the fees, and all other conditions relating to the calculation of the delivery fees…will cease to apply.”
A court ruling in Amsterdam this week found that Uber and Ola must explain to drivers how their personal data is used in calculating pay rates using dynamic pricing algorithms, opening the door for riders at Wolt and other food delivery platforms to demand the same.
Whether it is the new dynamic pricing system or other changes to Wolt’s payment system, the strike wave at the company, which has been owned by US firm DoorDash since the end of 2021, indicates that riders across Europe are extremely unhappy with the changes. Let’s take a look country-by-country.
Wolt couriers took strike action from 31 March to 3 April, and have called another three days of strike action from 29 April to 1 May. The strike was announced in response to reductions in rider’s pay.
Giorgos Stefanakis, President of the Union of Workers in Hotels, Tourism and Catering in Athens (Attica), one of the main organisers of the strike, told the Gig Economy Project that the new payment system still retains a link with distance travelled but it does not give “the riders the right to know in detail what they are being paid”.
“In essence the company is directing the couriers to chase more miles in order to earn a living, so that results in work intensification and riders are forced to work 10-12 hours,” he said.
More than 2000 riders in Athens and other Greek cities joined the strike in total, echoing the strong mobilisation in the successful E-Food strike of 2021, which Attica was also instrumental in. Stefanakis said the “great success” of the E-Food strike had given the Wolt riders confidence.
The union president said Wolt’s app was unable to function during the strike, “with the company being forced to send messages to its customers that it is unable to serve.” The riders are demanding a return of pay to March 2022 levels, permanent employment contracts, free provision of all necessary equipment and health and safety requirements observed.
🛵🛵🛵🛵🛵🛵🛵🛵🛵🛵🛵🛵🛵#Wolt riders’ #strike continues with daily actions in many cities of Greece— PAME Greece International (@PAME_Greece) April 3, 2023
Sunday March 2 took place big protest if front of National TV #ERT
Solidarity with wolt delivery workers! #efood #cancelwolt pic.twitter.com/X5ndF2Ou1x
The Wolt couriers in Greece shared solidarity messages with their fellow strikers in Georgia, and visa-versa. Stefanakis said the international unity of riders is “a great weapon and we must use it”.
In Georgia, couriers have been striking since 5 February. The latest strike began on 29 March and is indefinite: the riders say they will continue until they win.
Archibald Mekeshi, an artistic director in Tbilisi who has been one of the main strike organisers, told the Gig Economy Project that the strike, which has been organised through a private Facebook group without any formal union support, was in response to a new payment system introduced at the start of February which scrapped bonuses, whereby riders received a pay boost after 100 deliveries, and then after 200 deliveries, and so on. The impact has been a fall in pay of over 20%, and that’s before including inflation, which is currently running at over 5%.
“Now there is the new payment system, the riders want a rise in pay rates so they can earn what they were earning before,” Mekeshi says.
Around 300 riders attended the last working conference of the strike, and Mekeshi believes there is no more than 600 active riders in Tbilisi, so around half of the riders are actively engaged in the strike. The strikers have a main protest point in the city and then spread across the city to picket restaurants and give information to the public.
6th of April – #Wolt couriers of #Georgia will be supported by protest rally / concert ! #Tbilisi @woltapp @mikikuusi pic.twitter.com/LQI0i2WyMd— Archibald Mekeshi (@Archi_Mekeshi) April 5, 2023
“It is very disruptive,” Mekeshi says. “KFC had a tough talk with Wolt because of the impact on food delivery, also many other restaurants. We have rock stars and the head of Georgia’s philharmonic orchestra writing and doing videos to Wolt saying ‘justice for couriers’.”
The Georgian Fair Labour Platform issued a statement last week stating they were “alarmed” by reports that striking Wolt couriers in Tbilisi had been banned from the app for life. They claim that similar actions by another food delivery platform in 2021 had led to an investigation by the Public Defender which found that the bans constituted unlawful discrimination. The Public Defender met the Wolt riders to hear their concerns on 5 April.
Mekeshi says along with rising pay, one of their demands is to end “anti-constitutional threats and discrimination” of striking riders. Finally, they want “a change to the local management, which is discriminating against riders.”
Wolt Georgia have said they are willing to negotiate with the riders but have refused the strikers demands for “a collective negotiation” where all the riders are present. As the profile of the strike has grown, the Minister of Labour is considering appointing a mediator between the riders and Wolt Georgia’s management to seek to resolve the dispute.
The Wolt couriers in Tbilisi have sent solidarity messages to the strike in Greece, and Mekeshi wants the company’s global headquarters in Finland to take responsibility.
“Our message to Wolt’s management is: no matter what system you have, the courier must get a fair salary,” he says.
In Denmark, the dynamic pricing system was rolled-out later than in Finland, but it still stirred the same response, with riders organising strikes and blockades of Wolt ‘dark stores’ following its introduction in March.
Steve (name changed for anonymity purposes), a former Wolt rider who remains active within the food delivery workers’ movement in Copenhagen, told the Gig Economy Project that the response from the riders to the new dynamic pricing system was “the most anger I have seen”. One rider claimed on a private Facebook group that they are now earning 35% less with the new payment system. Over two protests numbers grew from 50 to around 80 riders, who chanted against the “Wolt mafia”.
Strejkende Woltbudene råber “No more paycuts”. De strejker mod et nyt betalingsystem, hvor budene ikke længere ved hvad de bliver betalt. Det er lønsnyd.#dkpol #arbejde pic.twitter.com/qYdvxvXksL— Rasmus ‘Gazellen’ Hjorth (@fodsl3) March 6, 2023
While the strikes have not yet delivered results, management have been forced to engage with the striking riders and a network, which has good relations with the 3F union, has been established.
Two Wolt strikes took place in Prague, the second on 14 February. The couriers protested the introduction of a dynamic pricing system, which they said lowered pay, was not transparent and ended fixed-rates per order. They said they believed their wages had fallen by up to 20%, and that is without accounting for the impact of inflation, which was over 16% in February.
The riders in the Czech capital were also unhappy about how many new couriers the company had registered on the app, which has intensified competition.
“There are a lot of us now and we fight hard with other couriers for every order,” one rider, Pavel, told CMG.
Wolt riders in Jyväskylä, a Finnish city, went on strike on 27 January in opposition to the introduction of the dynamic pricing system referred to above.
Twenty couriers demonstrated and a sign on the app posted on Twitter indicated that customers weren’t able to book on the site for at least part of the day. The riders said that the new conditions do not inform them of the basic payment for each ride nor the mileage compensation. The riders could only accept or reject the new terms.
“When I go to work, I don’t know how much I’m going to make,” Pascal, one of the rider’s who joined the demonstration, told Yle. “We don’t even know how they determine the amount of payments. It feels like we have been betrayed.”
He explained that the riders tried to give the new model a chance before realising it is no good.
“We will continue the strike if they do not contact us and if we cannot reach an agreement,” he added.
Iltahleti reported on 25 March that a group of under 50 Wolt couriers were protesting in Helsinki in front of the Wolt Market.
“If things don’t change, we’ll be here every Saturday on strike,” Rod, a Wolt rider, said.
Labournet Germany reported that Wolt delivery riders in Zagreb established a trade union initiative in early 2023 called the Wolt Delivery Initiative. The riders are employed via sub-contractors, which in Croatia is called an “aggregator system”. Through these intermediary companies, the riders are denied permanent employment contracts, health insurance and other workers’ rights like sick leave.
The riders also say pay has been cut in recent months, with migrants in particular suffering appalling conditions, including six people living together in one room.
“This is a fight for us to keep our earnings and dignity, and ultimately to stay in Croatia,” Domagoj Martinić, one of the founders of the Wolt Delivery Initiative, said. “Because it was this job that gave us the possibility to survive in this country. Don’t make us go to Ireland, Germany or wherever!”
Some of the riders behind the initiative, who want an end to the aggregator system among other demands, have been targeted and gradually fired, according to the Labournet report. They have organised protests and strikes over recent months, including on 10 March.
A group of Wolt couriers took strike action in Berlin on Wednesday [5 April], protesting outside the company’s German headquarters. The riders were employed via a sub-contractor, which seems to have disappeared, with 120 migrant riders claiming not to have been paid wages going back to November, an amount which totals “several 100,000 euros.”
The riders, mainly Pakistani and Indian migrants, want Wolt to “to take responsibility, pay the outstanding money and ends its subcontracting system”, according to Valentin Niebler, a platform work researcher at Humboldt University who attended the mobilisation on Wednesday.
The HQ was closed with bike locks and Martin Bechert, lawyer for the riders, said: “The workers wanted to hand Wolt demand letters or put them in the house letterbox, but the name on the letterbox was removed. Only criminal shell companies usually do that. I think this shows the shady character of the company.”
Wolt Germany told Tagespiegel that the company employs 4,000 couriers directly across Germany, but had worked with a “smaller” sub-contractor which it had found “obvious irregularities” with and ended the collaboration. Wolt also claims to be taking legal action against the vanished sub-contractor, the name of which does not appear in the report. Wolt Germany added that it was looking into “whether and in what form we can support the employees of these companies in their demands”, but claimed only 29 employees were affected, not 120.
A Twitter account called “The voice of the digital platform workers of Serbia” posted a picture of about 30 Wolt couriers gathered together and information about a protest in Belgrade on 6 April, which included a protest march.
The workers are demanding a rise in pay, that pay is calculated based on the actual distance travelled, to be informed of any changes to the algorithm well in advance and improvements to the equipment and the app without any cost to the riders.
A report in Blic states that a protest had also taken place on Tuesday [4 April], with around 50 riders gathering in republic square to warn Wolt bosses that unless they respond to their demands they will “go to plan B”. A speaker at the rally said they would not respond to the app, neither accepting nor rejecting tasks offered, as part of the strike.
“Maybe they will fire us, but for them 50 is a big loss,” one rider told Blic.
The Gig Economy Project asked Wolt about the strike wave, whether they understand the concerns of couriers about the new payment system, and whether they will consider changing the payment system in response to these concerns.
A Wolt spokesperson responded: “We’ve introduced several updates to the Wolt Partner App and payment model in the past months, and some courier partners are dissatisfied with the changes.
“In short, we’ve updated the Partner App so that all types of tasks would be worthwhile accepting and equally attractive (for example, distance is now measured based on estimated driven distance, not straight line) and courier partners have more control as they see the estimated fee we offer for a task upfront – before deciding to accept or reject it.
“These changes mean that some tasks pay more than before, while others pay less – to ensure that the pay per task corresponds to the required effort. The average hourly earnings levels have not significantly changed across in the cities where we’ve launched these updates.
“We understand that these updates are a big change for the courier partners, and clearly we could have communicated about this better. We have full respect for the courier partner’s right to voice their opinion publicly and we continue to have dialogue with our partners across our markets and we’re always open for feedback.”
In light of the life-time bans for riders in Georgia, GEP asked if Wolt has a policy of punishing couriers who participate in union organising/industrial action. Wolt responded: “We do not ban anyone from Wolt from protesting or calling us out in the media, and we support our partners rights to organise.”
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