Gig Economy Project – Sheffield: Longest continuous strike in UK gig economy reaches second week and spreads

Strike is into its eleventh day and has spread to Chesterfield, Sunderland, and Huddersfield*

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Sheffield Stuart Delivery couriers on strike

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A STRIKE of Stuart Delivery couriers in Sheffield has reached its eleventh day and has spread to other towns and cities in the UK.

The strike, led by members of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), is thought to be the longest on record in the UK’s gig economy, and comes in response to a pay cut by the company which saw rates on most deliveries slashed from £4.50 to £3.40. 

The Sheffield strike has picketed six McDonald’s restaurants between 5-10pm and has effectively brought deliveries from the restaurants to a stand-still, including shutting down one McDonald’s completely. As news of the strike spread through Northern England, delivery couriers in Chesterfield, Sunderland and Huddersfield have also began to strike, adding to the pressure on the company, which delivers on behalf of JustEat, the biggest food delivery firm in Europe.

The strike hardship fund has now reached over £7000, as the couriers dig in for the long haul. They demand at least £6 per delivery plus mileage and paid waiting times after 10 minutes.

The IWGB have revealed that Damien Bon, CEO of Stuart Delivery, which operates in five countries and 81 cities across Europe, received a 1000 per cent pay rise in 2020, taking home £2,232,453 after the company posted an extra £20 million in profit in the first year of the pandemic.

Parirs Dixon, Chair of the Sheffield Couriers & Logistics Branch (IWGB), said: “Everything has gone up in the UK: fuel, gas, food prices. Even the minimum wage has gone up. We were already on poverty pay because we have to pay our own vehicle costs and fuel costs out of our wages. 

“After working hard through the pandemic, Stuart is trying to exploit us further by slashing pay on most deliveries by just under 25%. Stuart should invest in its couriers who made it such a successful business over the pandemic rather than take money out of our pockets and handing it to pandemic millionaires. 

“When they first came to Sheffield, they were begging for couriers but now they treat us as if we are disposable. We feel like robots.”

Alex Marshall, President of the IWGB union and a former courier, has joined the Sheffield picket lines in recent days and described the strike as “inspirational…workers are organised, militant and determined.”

On Bon’s pay package, Marshall said: “Damien Bon has become a pandemic millionaire by exploiting a workforce who are denied basic worker rights and now he is slashing pay by 25%.

“These key workers worked tirelessly 10-12 hours a day through the pandemic keeping restaurants afloat and delivering vital supplies to isolating families. Stuart’s profits surged 30% in 2020 off the back of their hard work but instead of being rewarded, these majority-BAME couriers are faced with pay cuts that will push many further into poverty. 

“This is the longest gig-economy strike in UK history and it’s spreading fast. These couriers are going to keep fighting until they get the pay rise they deserve.”

The strike is being backed by the local MP for Sheffield Hallam, Olivia Blake, who said: “These workers have my full support. Savage pay cuts and broken promises are no way to thank couriers who worked throughout the pandemic to help deliver food to the people of Sheffield. 

“Both Stuart and JustEat need to step up and take responsibility for making sure their workers have what every worker deserves: a living wage, job security and a fair deal.”

The strike comes as the IWGB and law firm Leigh Day bring a worker status claim to court on behalf of over 150 Stuart Delivery couriers. Last week, the European Commission published a platform work directive which proposes that all platform workers should be considered as employees as the default legal presumption. 

The Directive will apply to all EU member-states but not to the UK post-Brexit. However, he Trades Union Congress has said that the Commission’s proposal “will inspire and inform” a UK push for a similar reform.

Stuart Delivery were contacted for comment but had not responded by time of publication.

*This article was updated on 16 December 2021

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