Gig Economy Project – Wolt: Trade union activist has account terminated for “taking every opportunity to criticise”

Copenhagen food delivery courier Rasmus Emil Hjorth claims his account was terminated at Wolt for trade union organising

Taken from Rasmus Emil Hjorth’s twitter account (@fodsl3)

A courier and trade union activist in Copenhagen, Denmark has had his account terminated by Wolt for “taking every opportunity to criticise” the food delivery company, in a termination letter seen by the Gig Economy Project.

Rasmus Emil Hjorth, a member of the 3F trade union and the Wolt Workers’ Group, was sent an e-mail on 31 October, the day before the Danish General Election, informing him that his account was being terminated “with immediate effect”.

Hjorth had participated in a wildcat strike in Copenhagen in October and was involved in a campaign to get the local football club, FC København, to put pressure on the company to sign a collective bargaining agreement, after the club signed a partnership agreement with Wolt in July.

Couriers at Wolt, a Finnish-founded firm which was purchased by American food delivery company DoorDash at the end of last year, are hired on an independent contractor basis, and the contract couriers sign states that the “partnership” can be ended at any time.

Hjorth accepts that “the Wolt contract is bullet proof, the worker has no legal protection” but nonetheless believes he has been fired for his trade union activism.

The letter to Hjorth, signed by Wolt’s head of operations in Denmark, Olivier Hollesen, states: “I am writing to inform you that we have decided to end the partnership with immediate effect.

“Our partnership is not working. We run a business and a partnership that you fundamentally disapprove of. You accept our offer of partnership while taking every opportunity to criticise its foundation, its premise. We see you rejecting any kind of dialogue, and even acting threateningly towards one of our colleagues who met you at the demonstration a few weeks ago. We do not find behaviour like this appropriate in a partnership.

“For a long time we have respected your and other courier partners’ right to discuss and criticise partnership with us. But in your case, in our opinion, it is not about finding solutions, unless these are the solutions you require. We cannot honour them. We make you and everyone else an offer of a partnership, and the individual is free to reject that offer.

“Therefore, it also appears from our Service Agreement that the partnership can be terminated by both parties, at any time and without notice. But you have not done that, even if you fundamentally find it unacceptable.

“According to the Service Agreement you have signed as a Wolt Courier Partner, both parties always have the free option to stop the partnership according to section 9.1. It is no longer a collaboration we want, and therefore we are now using the very same clause in the agreement to end the partnership.”

Hjorth told the Gig Economy Project that Wolt’s claim that he had acted “threateningly” was “completely untrue” and “a ridiculous attempt at character assassination”. 

He also denied that he had been “rejecting any kind of dialogue”, saying that he had once asked the CEO for a meeting about the problems the couriers were facing “but no one from the top of the company has ever approached me to talk”.

READ MORE: Archie Mellor, Rasmus Emil Hjorth: Why internationalism matters for food delivery organising

The courier, who is also a rider for Foodora, owned by German multi-national Delivery Hero, said that the termination was “ruthless” and that Wolt had done it to “make an example out of me”.

“I’m convinced that it’s because I’m a trade union activist, because there is no other logic to it,” he said.

“My colleagues are really upset, because they are afraid for the future. They think they might be next. And these people are not students; its people with families, small children that they have to support.”

Hjorth added that he believed the timing of the account termination – the day before the General Election – was no coincidence.

“They clearly wanted to deny me media attention, because they knew that even the labour journalists will be focused on the election,” he said.

Caja Bruhn, union officer of the 3F Copenhagen trade union, told the Gig Economy Project the fact that Hjorth was self-employed meant that the union cannot defend him in the usual way because “he’s not an employee”, and therefore cannot challenge his termination from Wolt in the labour court.

“From our point of view, this is a big example of how crazy it is that we have no collective agreement in this type of job, because the workers have no rights,” she said.

Bruhn added that the letter of termination, which implies that Hjorth’s account has been terminated for critical views expressed about the company, may be legally questionable.

“Hjorth has been active a lot, including in the media, saying the workers should be employees. So yes, he has criticised the self-employed system of Wolt, but you have a right to say what you want in Denmark, so what is the problem here? We want to look into that.”

3F have been in talks with Wolt about a collective agreement for years now, and Bruhn said they would continue with those efforts, as well as looking to solutions at the political level.

“We have been trying for a collective agreement and we will continue to do so because it’s our duty to try to get these type of jobs within some labour framework.

“At the same time, there is some movement in the EU, and we have just had an election in Denmark; we had spoken to the previous government about employment status and we will try to get this with the new government. 

“We have a very big tradition in Scandinavia of our labour model and we don’t want it to be destroyed by these type of companies.”

Food and grocery delivery worker collectives in Berlin expressed solidarity with Hjorth on social media after the news of his firing.

Hjorth visited Berlin in August to support the Works’ Council election at Lieferando, and report about what he found on the Gig Economy Project.

Asked if Wolt had terminated Hjorth’s account because he is a trade union activist, Mikkel Tofte, Communications Manager at Wolt Denmark, responded* that the company has “ceased the partnership with Rasmus because he has not fully accepted the fact that he is self-employed, not an employer. This is evident whenever he posts something in the courier community where 5.000 Wolt couriers have access, and plenty of times others have asked him why he doesn’t move on to Just Eat since it provides the conditions that he demands of Wolt. Rasmus never answers, and instead he directs the same criticism to the media’s attention.”

“We have terminated the partnership because Rasmus does not truly acknowledge his position as an independent courier,” Tofte added.

Tofte denied that the timing of the termination of Hjorth’s account had anything to do with the election, and asked whether Wolt tolerates criticism from its riders, he said: “We have no problem with criticism, but no two collaborating parties will accept constant criticism from one of the parties. It’s an unhealthy partnership.”

*This response was received after initial publication of the article. The piece was updated on Monday, 14 November.

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