Expert blog: Unmasking inequities and charting the path to Fair Work for food delivery gig workers | Nottingham Trent University
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Expert blog: Unmasking inequities and charting the path to Fair Work for food delivery gig workers

Associate Professor Nadia Kougiannou presents the findings of a report which examined the safety concerns of people working in the food delivery sector in Scotland, and explains why we need urgent reforms to protect workers both in Scotland and beyond.

Man with a thermal food delivery box on his back walking down the street
The report calls for policy reform to protect gig economy workers

The concept of “Fair Work” is central to tackling employment challenges, particularly for marginalised groups.

Despite Scotland’s intensified focus on this principle, our recent report Fair Gig Work in Scotland? A Review of Employment Practices in Scottish Food Delivery Work exposes significant disparities within the gig economy, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over five years, crucial indicators have shown a deterioration in flexible working conditions, an increase in zero-hours contracts, diminished skills utilisation, reduced workplace learning, and a decline in trade union membership.

This report sheds light on these issues, with a special emphasis on the food delivery sector, revealing the urgent need for policy reform to protect gig workers.

Despite a growing emphasis on Fair Work in Scotland, the gig economy remains absent from national measures. This oversight is particularly concerning given the gig economy’s acknowledged precarious nature. Food delivery workers, who often find themselves without essential policies, face normalised unfair practices that hinder their progress and that of migrant workers.

This is exacerbated by the fact that trade union membership among food delivery workers is remarkably low, with 88.1% of respondents indicating non-membership. This is in stark contrast to perceptions of the unions’ importance, with over 65% of participants recognising them as crucial for enhancing working conditions.

Voicing concerns is another significant challenge, as over 60% of respondents reported limited or no opportunities to express their views about work. Only 0.5% received responses from food delivery companies about working conditions. Barriers to effective communication include companies' unwillingness to hear concerns (57%) and cumbersome technology (31%).

The report highlights that food delivery work serves as a crucial entry point into the labour market, with 48% of respondents relying on it as their primary source of income. Migrant workers, who make up a significant portion of this workforce, face additional barriers such as qualification recognition, visa constraints, and language proficiency issues.

These challenges severely limit their chances of transitioning to more secure employment.

Nadia Kougiannou
Associate Professor Nadia Kougiannou, Nottingham Business School

Informal labour markets further intensify worker vulnerability, particularly for undocumented migrants who resort to renting accounts for weekly fees. These workers often lack access to health and safety protections, exacerbating their precariousness and trapping them in cycles of low-paid, unsafe employment.

Despite being classified as self-employed, many gig workers heavily depend on food delivery work, with over 40% working 40 hours or more per week. Dissatisfaction is prevalent, with 62% of respondents expressing discontent with pay rates. They cite low compensation relative to effort (77%) and no payment for waiting times (63%) as key issues.

Safety concerns are universal, with 81% of participants feeling unsafe as food delivery workers. Many perceive that employers prioritise customers over workers, and workplace abuse is widespread. Reports include verbal and psychological abuse (90%), sexual harassment (100% of female respondents), racial or ethnic abuse (60%), and physical abuse (55%).

Health and safety hazards are also significant, with many respondents engaging in risky behaviours such as crossing red lights and driving on pavements. These actions, driven by time pressures and the need to maximise income, not only endanger the workers but also other road users and pedestrians.

Recommendations

The transition to a digital nation must address the deep-rooted challenges in gig work. This report proposes policy guidelines based on Fair Work Principles to rectify issues in the food delivery platform industry. These guidelines aim to foster fair treatment for delivery couriers and platform companies, ensuring that technological progress does not come at the expense of workers' rights and security.

Scotland’s journey towards fair work requires a delicate balance between embracing technological advancements and ensuring equitable labour practices. Addressing immediate concerns related to security, fair wages, and labour rights is crucial for sustainable development and equity in Scotland’s workforce.

However, the insights gleaned from this report resonate far beyond Scotland, highlighting the challenges gig workers face worldwide.

In labour markets globally, the rapid expansion of the gig economy demands urgent attention to the precarious conditions of workers who lack traditional employment protections.

The Scottish experience highlights the importance of inclusive policies that safeguard the rights of all workers, particularly those in vulnerable and marginalised positions.

As we transition into a digital future, nations must prioritise fair treatment for gig workers, recognising their significant contributions to the economy.

Fair work principles must be integrated into national and international labour policies to foster environments where all workers can thrive. Ensuring fair treatment for gig workers is a moral imperative and a necessary step towards a more just and inclusive society.

Dr Nadia K. Kougiannou, Associate Professor of Work and Employment, Nottingham Business School

Citation:
Mendonça, P., Hadjisolomou, A. & Kougiannou, N. (2024). Fair Gig Work in Scotland? A Review of Employment Practices in the Scottish Food Delivery Work.

Published on 20 May 2024
  • Category: Press office; Research; Nottingham Business School