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Why do riders choose to join a union?

A theme we regularly return to in this newsletter is the possibilities and constraints on food delivery couriers to get organised and build their collective power through workers' collectives and unions. In March we explored how it is relatively easy for riders to strike, but difficult to win. In this newsletter we will examine a new paper which looks at the motivations for riders to join a union.

Kurt Vandaele from the European Trade Union Institute and Leonard Geyer and Nicolas Prinz from the Austrian European Centre for Social Welfare Policy and Research have authored an academic study titled 'Riding together? Why app-mediated food delivery couriers join trade unions in Austria' (behind paywall). The authors conducted a survey with 265 food delivery couriers to find out what are the factors which make it more or less likely for a rider to join a union. What did they find?

Food deliver couriers in Austria are divided between those on 'free-service contracts', which includes almost all couriers at Foodora (Delivery Hero), and those who are employed, which includes all couriers at Lieferando (Just Eat). Foodora and Lieferando dominate the food delivery sector in Austria. Interestingly, the study finds that free-service contractors and employed riders have a very similar demographic make-up in terms of gender, age, education-level and citizenship. The differences come when one looks at more subjective facets. 

Employees are more likely to work full-time and to have personal contact with other couriers. These are factors as to why they are also much more likely to be a union member, with 25.3% of employees surveyed in a union compared to 8.8% of free-service contractors. Employees were "significantly more likely to perceive unions as effective" whereas free service contractors had "less belief in unions improving their pay and working conditions". 

Factors inclining all riders (employees and free-service contractors) towards union membership include dissatisfaction with pay, planning to stay in the job long-term, personal and online contact with other couriers, and participation in the events of the Rider Collective. Interestingly, the value workers placed on autonomy was not a significant factor in whether they would join a union or not, which "suggest that autonomy and enjoyment may simply matter less to couriers than income regarding unionisation decisions". 

The authors' draw a number of conclusions from these findings. Firstly, riders are motivated to join unions by both "instrumental" (the belief that it can improve their financial position) and "value-rational" (the sense of connection to and association with their fellow workers) factors, which is similar to the traditional motivations of workers for joining a union. 

Second, "core features of the platform economy" - false-self employment, short time in the job, isolation from their fellow workers - are "stumbling blocks" to unionisation. Third, and relatedly, there is a stark difference in motivation to join a union based on employment status, which is logical because in Austria Lieferando couriers are covered by a collective agreement, whereas Foodora couriers are not. The difference in material benefits derived from union membership is evident.

Finally, "trade union activism can improve unionisation efforts". The authors find that Rider Collective organised events (RC is an activist wing of the Vida union), which were attended by as many free-service contractors as employees, proved to be an effective recruitment method, not just a talking shop for the already initiated. 

These findings are in line with what Robert Wasalinski, Riders Collective project manager, told us in an interview with GEP last month. One question that emerges is the extent to which the Austrian case is generalisable across Europe. Austria's model of institutionalised collective bargaining and Works Councils' is quite unique, and is clearly one of the reasons why Vida can count hundreds of riders as members across the country, a union density that is well in advance of most European countries and took-off after the collective agreement had been agreed with Lieferando in 2020.

Nonetheless, some of the factors identified in this study are universal. If you are a rider who is alienated from your fellow riders both personally and professionally, you are obviously much less likely to join a union. Workers are not just human calculators; we are influenced as much by our social environment as our bank account. Finding ways to build relationships between food delivery couriers is a key part of building an active, engaged unionism. 

That said, for many workers, a belief that the union can improve their lot is the key to membership (a cost in its own right). This study shows that the desire of many riders for 'autonomy' is not necessarily the barrier to unionisation that it may at first seem, as it does not make them more negative towards unions than a rider who is less concerned with flexible working. If unions can show that they can win, riders - employee or self-employed - will join hand over fist. The difficult part is to first accumulate the critical mass of riders which can make winning possible.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • EUROPEAN COMMISSION KNEW ABOUT NEELIE KROES' ILLEGAL UBER LOBBYING: The European Commission was well aware of former Commissioner Neelie Kroes' breach of lobbying rules, a report by Dutch investigative journalist company Follow The Money has found. Kroes, a former vice-president of the European Commission, lobbied for Uber during the 'cooling-off period', which prohibits lobbying for 18 months after finishing your post unless permission is granted. The lobbying was exposed in the Uber Files revelations in July 2022, with documents revealing that she had lobbied Dutch Prime Mark Rutte and other ministers, as well as European Commissioners, on behalf of the Californian gig economy giant, which sought to hide the company's links to Kroes. However, Follow The Money has found that another document in the Uber Files not reported on last year, shows that Kroes had made Jean Claude Juncker, the European Commission President at the time, aware of her lobbying during the cooling-off period, stating in a letter that: “I have no intention of circumventing the principle of transparency.” Kroes made an application for permission to lobby during the cooling-off period, but before it was officially rejected Juncker told Kroes to withdraw the request. Follow The Money find that this is common practise in the Commission to prevent the requests from ever being made public, and that the unelected body has no intention to change this practise despite the Kroes revelations. The EU anti-fraud office's investigation into Kroes' illegal lobbying, announced last September, is ongoing. Read more here.
  • FOOD DELIVERY PLATFORMS SIGN LONDON ROAD SAFETY CHARTER: Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Just Eat, Getir and Stuart Delivery have signed up to London mayor Sadiq Khjan's new road safety charter, an attempt to reduce the number of accidents involving riders on mopeds and motorbikes. The 10-point Charter is a voluntary initiative and commitments include ensuring riders wear the necessary protective equipment, encouraging riders to report collisions, to take "appropriate action" against riders found to have breached the Highway Code, that the app is "designed with the intention of avoiding putting couriers at risk", and that delivery schedules are "realistic". There have been numerous reports of riders taking chances on the road due to being under pressure to delivery quickly, including one in The Guardian this week. A recent study found food delivery couriers are 15 times as likely to have an accident at work as the average courier. Read more here.
  • DELIVEROO COULD FACE TAKOVER BID WHEN CEO SEES VOTING POWER REDUCED: Deliveroo CEO Will Shu is taking advice on how to defend the company from a potential takeover bid when his voting power is reduced, Bloomberg reports. As part of the terms of Deliveroo's 2021 IPO, Shu secured a voting structure which meant his shares had 20 times the voting power of stock held by other investors, but that expires in April 2024, when Shu's shares will convert to having normal voting power. 'Activist' investor Sachem Head owns shares in the British platform and is thought to see the potential for a takeover. Shares rose sharply on the news of Shu taking soundings, with analysts at Citigroup bank saying this was because "it likely renews investor interest in industry consolidation". The German multi-national Delivery Hero owns 6% of Deliveroo, while Amazon owns 12%. Deliveroo's 2021 IPO was a disaster, and the company' share price has fallen 70% since then. Read more here.
  • LONDON RIDER EARNS JUST £44 IN 12 HOURS: A food delivery courier for Deliveroo and Uber Eats earned just £3.70 while working in London's plush Soho district. Deliveroo claims its couriers are "guaranteed to earn at least the living wage," but Shaffi, who was shadowed by reporter Nicola Kelly for a 12 hour working day, earned just £44 in that time. Shaffi, who has been a rider for seven years, said he could earn £1000 a week when he first started but wage rates have fallen dramatically in recent years. During the day's work, Kelly and Shaffi speak to a group of Indian undocumented migrants riding for multiple platforms who say they are willing to accept any price offered by the platforms. Shaffi also almost has an accident during the shift, something which he says he has become "numbed" to now. None of the wealthy customers Shaffi serves gave a tip across the whole day. Read more here.
  • BRUNO METTLING, HEAD OF FRANCE'S GIG ECONOMY 'SOCIAL DIALOGUE' BODY, RESIGNS: The controversial head of the French Government's 'social dialogue' body for negotiating agreements between gig workers and platforms has said he is stepping down. Bruno Mettling was appointed to the position two years ago when the Authority for Social Relations of Employment Platforms (ARPE) was established, despite the fact that he had previously written a report on behalf of Uber. In 2022 elections were held for the platform worker representatives of the body, but they were boycotted by some unions. Just 3,000 platform workers voted out of an eligible 123,000, despite Uber playing an active role in mobilising workers to vote. ARPE's most notable achievement has been to broker an agreement for a minimum pay per journey for platform workers of €7.65. "After two rewarding years as president of ARPE the time has come for me to hand over the reins," Mettling tweeted. "Our work in the VTC and food delivery courier sectors has laid the foundation for a new social dialogue." Danielle Simonnet, France Insoumise deputy in the France's National Assembly who led the assembly's Uber Files inquiry, tweeted in response that Mettling's resignation was "good news" but that "the ARPE remains an instance of a blunt social dialogue aimed at defending outlaw platforms like Uber against any reclassification of Uberised workers as employees!". 
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Upcoming events

- A University of Innsbruck research project on the reactions and behaviours of gig workers towards algorithmic management is looking for food delivery couriers to interview. The interviews are compensated. Click here fo details.

- The second 'trilogue' meeting to negotiate the final text of the EU Platform Work Directive has been scheduled for 18 September.

- A 'Fight the Raids on Couriers!' meeting to organise against immigration raids on food delivery couriers in London will be held on 20 September, 11-4pm, 15 Old Ford Road, Bethnal Green, E2 9PJ, and can also be accessed via Zoom. Click here for full details. 

- The WE-TRANSFORM project is hosting a conference in Turin, Italy on 'a policy agenda for workers transition in automated and digital transport services', 27-28 September. Click here for full details and to register. 

- INDL-6, the sixth annual conference of the International Network on Digital Labor, is hosting a conference in Berlin on 'Digital Labor in wake of pandemic times', 9-11 October. The conference is open to all and free to register. Click here for full details.

- WageIndicator is hosting an online conference on 'A Level Playing Field for Gig Workers', 27 October. Click here for full details and to register.

Know of upcoming events we should be highlighting? Let us know at

Get Involved

The Gig Economy Project is a media network for gig workers and we welcome contributions from workers, writers, academics, activists - anyone who wants to stand up for workers' rights in the gig economy.

If you would like to write for the site, discuss arranging an interview with GEP, or simply have information about developments in the gig economy in Europe you think we should be aware of, get in touch. 

Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at or send a direct message to the Twitter: @project_gig.

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