Gig Economy Project – Stuart Delivery: Longest ever UK gig economy strike resumes

Pay strike ran for 18 days in December, with pickets re-starting outside McDonald’s restaurants on 10 January

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Picture of Sheffield Stuart Delivery protest from Alex Marshall’s Twitter account (@alexjkmarshall)

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STUART Delivery couriers have restarted the longest ever strike in the UK’s gig economy today [10 January], with picket lines returning to McDonald’s restaurants every day this week, after a hiatus over the Christmas holidays.

The strike, which is demanding higher pay, initially ran from 6-24 December and spread from Sheffield to Chesterfield, Sunderland, Huddersfield and Blackpool. At one McDonald’s restaurant in Sheffield which works with Stuart Delivery, the effectiveness of the strike managed to shut down the restaurant entirely.

Members of the IWGB union voted on Christmas Eve to give Stuart Delivery, a subcontractor for Just Eat, “a chance to reflect” and “the opportunity to come to the table and resolve the dispute”, according to the IWGB’s president Alex Marshall, who warned the company in a letter that if they “fail to rectify the situation we will enter phase two of the campaign in January”. 

Stuart Delivery couriers held a protest last week outside a meeting organised by the company’s management with a self-selected group of couriers, involving no unionised workers, to discuss the dispute. According to the IWGB, venue security informed them that management made a quick exit out of a fire escape at the back of the building when they saw the protest, while Stuart Delivery claims the meeting was cancelled before the protest had begun. 

The company has rejected the IWGB’s claim that the base pay per delivery was slashed by 24% to £3.40 an hour when a new algorithmic system was introduced in November. In a tweet from the company on 22 December, Stuart Delivery said that the new “linear pay” system “does not amount to a 25% pay cut as has been suggested by IWGB and in the media”, adding that “the average pay per drop has remained consistent and in some instances increased after these changes”. 

One courier responded to Stuart Delivery’s claim directly calling it “absolute nonsense”, and adding: “I work on this ‘linear pay’ and on average I now have to work 10 hours more per week to earn what I was earning on the old pay structure.”

Stuart Delivery couriers are not hired by the company, operating as ‘independent contractors’. The company’s CEO, Damien Bon, received a 1000% pay hike in 2020, taking home £2,232,453 after the company posted an extra £20 million in revenue in the first year of the pandemic.

Fingers have also been pointed at Just Eat, Europe’s largest food delivery company which claims to have shifted to a system of hiring its couriers, but in practise it continues to subcontract from Stuart Delivery and other sub-contractors which operate an ‘independent contractor’ model. Just Eat have so far refused to comment directly on the strike.

Commenting on the dispute, Olivia Blake, Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, said: “Sheffield will not stand idly by while JustEat and Stuart exploit and ignore our key workers. Their families must not be allowed to pay the price for Stuart’s corporate greed. On behalf of our city I call on them to do the right thing: reverse the pay cut and sit down to talk with the IWGB.” 

Marshall, President of the union and a former courier, said: “The sign of a good employer is allowing workers to organise, unionise, elect workplace reps and to engage with them in order to resolve workplace issues. Currently Stuart Delivery is doing everything it can to avoid this which speaks volumes about the company. It’s time For Stuart to come to the table and negotiate.”

Parirs Dixon, Chair of the Sheffield Couriers & Logistics Branch (IWGB), said: “I just want to say thank you for the overwhelming support we’ve received from our union as well as members of parliament and the public. We are not alone in the shadows anymore and there is no going back. The strike will continue until we are heard.” 

The workers are demanding a pay rise instead of a pay cut and an end to unpaid waiting times. 

The hardship strike fund has now reached over £14,000. The IWGB is also pursuing a legal action against Stuart Delivery arguing that the couriers are employees and should be entitled to employment rights like a minimum wage, holiday pay and a pension.

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