I want to thank you good people for gathering around
To listen to what I’m about to put down.
My topic for today is Deliveroo
A food platform founded by Orlowski and Shu,
Who saw a gap in the market in 2013
To profit from fast food without making a meal
Or paying their own workers to deliver the food
By lighting upon a most cunning ruse:
‘We’ll take all the profit while riders do the work
And earn not a penny should they choose to shirk.
Though they’ll look like our workers they’ll be classed self employed
And lose all the rights other workers enjoy,
Like sick pay, holiday pay, and national insurance,
Though we will provide access to other allurements
If they pay for our helmet and green thermal bag,
Jacket and phone mount and cube-shaped backpack,
And bring their own smartphone, bike, car or scooter
That will let us determine their lives by computer.’
That’s the heart-warming credo from company insiders,
Now let’s look at what life’s like for Deliveroo riders.
Though classed as independent, riders advertise Roo,
Just one of many ways in which they are screwed.
They take on all the risk as they pay to be insured –
There’s no concern with welfare once the rider has been lured
By the promise of decent wages, which will only prove true
When demand is held high, otherwise, well, screw you.
And by over-recruitment from desperate providers
Roo lowers low wages and disempowers riders.
The bosses who control you will never be seen,
While the investors who milk you are living the dream.
The mouth-watering beauty of Deliveroo
Is that directly employed workers are reduced to so few
That the platform attracts huge bubbles of investment
From those happy to disregard your discontentment.
Though claiming independence as the job’s main enticement
Roo will penalise you if you decline an assignment
Because it’s miles across town and up a steep hill,
Roads are covered with ice or you’re not feeling well,
So you must take the job though you’ll earn a mere pittance,
This algorithmic job leaves no space for resistance.
Yes, investors are ecstatic about the great gig economy
Which heralds a new age of worker autonomy;
Self-sufficiency means that no trade unions are needed,
And when there’s no-one to complain to don’t’ feel defeated,
If you stay injury-free and waste no time on play,
You might cover your rent and buy two meals a day.
The algorithm that rules you is completely opaque,
While carefully collating every move that you make.
You’re in the black box, controlled by automation,
Trapped in the choice between work or starvation.
So it’s up the hill, down the hill, in rain, sleet or shine,
Cutting corners, jumping lights, to try to make up time.
The algorithm tells you ‘Surge. £6 a drop tonight’
‘Ride safe’, it adds, but of course, you won’t, driven by penury plight.
Does the company care if you wreck your bike or wreck yourself in a fall?
No – there are plenty other precariats prepared to answer the call.
The gig economy is fed by dearth and desperation,
Turning the screw on workers by work intensification,
No need for bosses to crack the whip, to bully and coerce,
Workers do it to themselves when other jobs are even worse.
SWIPE RIGHT TO ACCEPT – RIGHT TO ACCEPT – SWIPE TO ACCEPT the ride,
Your app is your best friend tonight if all your stars are aligned.
Helmet on, bike lock off, peddling like mad in the rain,
Praying that the restaurant won’t keep you waiting again.
Helmet on, bike lock off, now a race to the customer’s flat,
Which is more than a mile across the town so you’ll make two quid if that.
But rest assured Deliveroo cares deeply about what your receiving,
So it won’t demand you hand over tips or even charge you for breathing.
Wherever this platform operates protection goes down the drain,
So a more protective government drove it out of Spain
With a new ‘rider’s law’ that grants employee rights
Reversing anti-union laws that have caused such worker blight.
So a pit of shame for Sunak, Britain’s senior tory,
For naming Roo as a ‘true British tech success story,’
A story that led recently to the death of an underage kid,
Who rented a Roo rider account for only a couple of quid,
On his borrowed bike he lived the Deliveroony dream
Until the crash in which he died, aged only seventeen.
But no-one is accountable, no employer gives a damn,
It’s just a grotesque outcome of the self-employment scam.
‘A food platform is impartial; I’m deaf and cannot see,
So a Roo rider’s welfare means not a jot to me.
I’m just a facilitator, connecting this with that,
To make a fortune for investors while avoiding paying tax.
I’ve been mislabelled ‘Slaveroo,’ a libelous calumny,
As my lurid green-clad riders are the epitome of free.
Free to work themselves to death to earn a decent wage,
Free to rent out their accounts to kids of any age,
To take no holidays, to learn no employment skills,
To not join a trade union and to have to work when ill.
They’re even free to crash their bike or let their motorbike burn,
But please don’t badly hurt yourself – consider how little you’ll earn.’
So you riders must see it’s a con to believe you’re free of this and that,
That you’re only free to take your place in the digital precariat.
But don’t despair Roo riders, though weakened by insularity,
History shows ways of resisting through worker solidarity.
You can heap losses on billionaire bosses to better your conditions
And bring about fair rates of pay by forging coalitions.
Don’t let yourselves be separated, work together, unionise,
Talk to other sisters and brothers and use social media to organise.
Resistance is the name of the game, learn it and repeat it,
Unite and fight and in the end, Deliveroo will be defeated.
About the Poem
This rap poem addresses the recent death in a road accident of an underage Deliveroo rider in the UK, and by reading Callum Cant’s book ‘Riding for Deliveroo’. The broader target is the gig economy and its impact in particular on the younger generation.
About the Author
Michael Jardine is a retired British academic and occasional poet.