Deliveroo diary of a migrant worker in The Hague.

by Hassan Turi

This article was under consideration for quiet long time while I was still working for Deliveroo but could not write due to my shift from part time work to full time work on Deliveroo and continue my job hunt post-graduation. Why working for Deliveroo ? Why not working part time job somewhere else? I read an article on viewpoint explaining Deliveroo work experience in London, which I felt was different from The Hague. This article was written in response to that article but could not get published at that time.

I started my masters at International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) The Hague, University of Rotterdam in September, 2016 with students almost all continents. I was on full scholarship by Netherlands which at that time called Netherlands Fellowship Program (NFP) and has changed to OKP. While there were students who were either working at restaurants or doing dog keeping or taking care of children. There was only one student, Pablo my best friend, who was working for Deliveroo. He was one of the first riders on contract working for Deliveroo in The Hague. In late 2017 when students arrived after completing their field work, many of them started working for Deliveroo. Where, soon Deliveroo changed from giving contracts to freelance system. Riders were being paid 5 euros per delivery along with bonuses if a rider completes particular amount of deliveries in two weeks.

I was told by a fellow alumni from our school, who was 3 batches senior to our batch, that “it was our batch (2016–2017), where students started actively working along with their studies. Even our student facilitator was amused when he learned that students are allowed to work in Netherlands officially by registering themselves at Chamber of commerce (KVK) as entrepreneur.

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In course of two months more than half of riders in The Hague were from our school, working for more than 7 hours per day. News spread in our school circle of riders working for Deliveroo making good money comparing to other jobs such as waiters and dish cleaning in restaurants. Following the trend most of students in our school started working for Deliveroo. We used to joke around in the school that Deliveroo is mandatory internship after graduating from ISS. Since, I had more information regarding working with Deliveroo, So, I decided to work for Deliveroo after my graduation.

The whole registration processes for Deliveroo was in Dutch language. During my studies we did not learn a single word of Dutch language, apart from alsjeblieft, danke well and gratis. My floor mate and class fellow, who was already working for deliveroo started helped me with registration process. I received an invitation, a referral link from a friend, where he would get 100 euros after I complete 30 orders in 60 days.

I started working for Deliveroo in December of 2017. I bought a new phone and a Power bank. I used to get shifts easily in the mornings and evenings very easily. Although, I was living in the centrum in a university dorm, I have to rush to main area for log in, otherwise, if you somehow couldn’t login for 15 minutes, you will be considered as absent and will get penalty.

The first thing riders did was that all of them bought good, comfortable and expensive bikes, good water proof jackets and good shoes. Riding expensive bikes made them work longer and make more money. After graduation from our school, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), I divide students into two broad groups. (a) Those who were full time working mostly on Deliveroo (b) Those started for looking jobs in NGOs and organizations and handful of them doing both to survive and hopeful for proper careers. One could see that after starting full time working, most of us staying in Hague would hardly see each. I was living in all boys dorm, with my class fellows most of them Africans. Where, we would sit together in kitchen around breakfast and dinners, discussing our whole day routine. On the roads we would wave hands to each other or would stop for a brief talk on the roads and in front of restaurants, waiting for food to be picked.

Zones

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Pictures of three zones in The Hague city.

The Great Russian filmmaker, Andrei Tarkavosky in his famous movie Stalkerdefines a Zone “a room in countryside, where it is rumored that wishes comes true. The site is patrolled by armed guards protecting it from people to step in. Despite looking benign, even cheerful (next to the grim realities of the city), the Zone is said to be protected by obscure traps, all but unpredictable dangers which have destroyed careless questers for years. As a result of this situation, a new profession has arisen, that of the Stalkers.”

Stalker, riding over bikes, carrying huge bags with food. I would bike all over the city, I would see most of my class fellows and students from our school at different places all over of The Hague. Estef having beers at café De Bieb with his colleagues from her work. Dani is enjoying ice cream at Luciano Den Haag. I used to wave to Pablo on Scheveningseweg on the way to beach. And on the weekends I would share all the news (gossips) I have gathered while biking around the city with my friends . I would not have this experience of the city if I have not choose to work with deliveroo. Deliveroo changed its protocols of work later in in August 2018. Which made the work more precarious.

In 2017, when I started working with Deliveroo. You can only work at one zone at a time. You will never get a delivery from a restaurant from another zone. If you deliver delivery into another zone, you have to come all the way back to your own zone to get deliveries and you would get delivery once you enter your zone The Hague was divided into three zones.

(a) DH1 (centrum)

(b) DH2 (Schevengan)

(c) DH3 (Dunidoord)

Centrum (DH1) which is the busiest part of the city has most restaurants. Most of riders prefer to work in this zone. Most of the riders prefer to live around centrum as it is convenient to check in. Whereas, comparatively other two zones do not have many restaurants. There were not many deliveries over there. Riders who were new or had bad statistics used to work in these two zones. After working in centrum (zone 1) riders would remember map of that of the city and would familiarize with busy parts of the city and had information regarding that area. It takes weeks to familiarize with streets. And once you remember the streets, so, you don’t need to use your mobile phone for direcetion and you save your battery. This was the reason that riders would avoid to work in zone 2 and zone 3, where you are not familiar with area, you waste more time on looking to phone. You lose your time and your phone battery. Deliveroo use to give bonus over deliveries in these two zones (zone2, zone 3) to entice riders in bad weather.

I loved restaurants in the centrum Dh1. I made good friendship with chefs and owners. All the riders would complain about the owner of La Bruschetta and I would get free pizza from them. Always used to share jokes with chefs in Ohana poke. The Turkish owner of the restaurant on Nieuwstraat would appear with different names on Deliveroo app. He would greet me like a brother and ask for drink. Similarly, sweet Colombian and Dutch owner would shout at me in the city even when I was not working. I would visit and say hi to Turkish owner at Friet District, where would discuss little bit politics from Middle East. This made me to stay in DH1 (centrum).

Deliveroo introduced new system of payment in last August 2018, where riders were paid on the bases of distance. Which normally could be understood a very simple calculation of rider distance from restaurant and restaurant distance from customer replacing former system where a rider would get 5 euro per delivery. In former system a rider statistics could drop if he or she rejects a delivery, whereas in new system one can reject a delivery without affecting his/her statistics. However, it was very complicated process to calculate the fee. Which according to Deliveroo, they tweak the system such as that average riders earn 12 to 13 euros per hour and depends of average riders speed from restaurant to customer. The faster riders travel the lower will be the fee. And vice versa. In the meanwhile Dh3 was removed and one have to check in at zone where he/she has registered his/herself but can take deliveries from any zone.

The lowest fee was above four but it started getting lower after some time. This prompted many riders switch to electric bikes and even some got scooters. While still there are many riders on normal personal bikes or renting from local companies’ e.g Swapfiets. After implementation of new system the riders work more and pay more for renting electric bikes (120 euros). Once we got new bikes, we got another problem. Our bikes started getting stolen from our dorm parking lot. In our dorm each rider lost two to three bikes. Continuous work with headphones takes away your focus, a sometimes thieves would take away our bikes unlocked, while we were waiting for delivery in front of restaurants.

The fees are so low that riders have started working for other food delivering companies such as Ubereats along with Deliveroo. Now, you will see many riders with Ubereats bags working for Deliveroo. The work is getting more precarious day by day. A rider receive a delivery only when you are close to centrum and when you are close to centrum, you get paid little. The waiting time at restaurants is annoying riders and workers at restaurants at same time. As riders are paid by distance system their waiting time is not counted by Deliveroo. Where some restaurants take a lot of time. Which has made quite few restaurants stop working with Deliveroo. The new system made many riders uneasy and started chatting to organize over, their precarious work condition and little flexibility which offered with prior system.

Flexibility

It was because of this perceived flexible nature of work that I started working for Deliveroo. Where I had an agency to select whenever, I wanted to work. It worked for a while until Deliveroo changed to distance based system. It took away flexibility from riders where most of the riders where enrolled universities and colleges students. If you had booked a session and you got some emergency. The rider was forced to work or you have to check in and respond to deliveries on Deliveroo app. Even if you are not working. If you do not respond the Deliveroo app will offline rider. If rider didn’t get online in 15 minutes, the session will be counted as unattended/absent and will lose his/her statistics.

Riders, have to attend peak hours (dinner time) on the weekend. Even though if the rider hasn’t book session for weekend, his statistics would get affected. Deliveroo referred to it as cumulative effect of all riders working together, where your statistics were dependent upon work of all riders in the area. It always took two weeks to two months to recover your statistics and get more work for week. During my studies I used to go to play volleyball on weekends. I stopped playing volley ball when I started working for Deliveroo. Sometime, I would leave my phone with a friend so that he could reject deliveries on my deliveroo app, while I was playing volleyball. And that one time, I left my phone with my friend without sharing my password, the phone screen turned off and he could not turn on my mobile phone and respond to deliveries on Deliveroo app. I was penalized and recovered my statistics after a moth of work.

Since, I could not work for a month my savings got depleted. It was continuous struggle, to maintain statistics and keep working and looking for proper jobs. Whereas, riders could not afford to have vacations. However recently, they have changed the alogrithim so after receiving few orders an option appears mentioning choice to remain online or get offline. I f you leave that message as it as you remain online without getting orders. This option is helpful as earlier I had a job interview and also booked session on that particular day. I could not focus on my online interview because of incoming deliveries notifications. Similarly, also, recently riders can leave for vacation while maintaining their statistics.

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If your statistics are not 100% then you book shifts at 3:00 PM and if you have 100% statistics then you book shifts at 11:PM. Which means you have more shifts, more work

Riders Solidarity

A huge chunk of riders are students from different unviersities and colleges in The Hague such as The HagseHog School, International Institute of Social Studies, Leiden University, Hague branch and royal in Royal academy of art, working simultaneously for different delivery platforms. Most of riders are migrant students studying in Hague. In our school a trend was set by our batch 2016–2017 and was soon followed by students from 2017–2018 batch. They started working for Deliveroo immediately after arriving in The Hague. Since, riders comes from same university and schools, they somehow recognize each other. However, after changing the structure of Deliveroo by moving toward distanced based system, the nature of deliveroo work has changed more toward a full time work. Which is the reason that it is now attracting local residents for work. Riders daily bump into each other in front of restaurants. Where they chat with each other and make friendships. Riders wave to each other on the roads and help each other in emergency. There is whatsapp group, where riders discuss day to day activities such as which restaurant is taking more time in preparing food. Which restaurant staff is rude to riders and also happy moments if someone gets a good tip.

However the group gets active whenever fee gets drop or when there are no deliveries. Riders share their frustration in the group and mobilize for action. Which has never happened so far until I was there until July 2019. One reason could be the nature of work itself as I mentioned above that there are different categories of riders, with different class background and aspirations. Most of the riders working for Deliveroo are student and graduate migrants from global south. For many of the riders the whole reason for staying after their studies is to earn as much money they can in one year and then leave for their home countries. All of these riders from this category are full timers, working more than 10 hours per day supporting their families back home.

Whereas, there are riders mostly from eastern and southern Europe or Dutch who work to sustain themselves while studying in The Hague. Mostly they work in busy hours of the day during dinner or breakfast time. Then there is another category of riders, who just work in order to make some extra money for their traveling and stay during their studies. With such diverse goals it becomes hard bring everyone together on a platform. For example, when Deliveroo started freelance system, the first batch of freelancers were against contract for a riders. As they riders used to have contracts in 2015 till early 2017. Freelance riders claimed that they been earning and working more than riders with contracts.

Deliveroo has been recruiting a lot of new riders and they have no history of how Deliveroo used to work earlier and how much old riders were earning. New riders are frequently added to whatsapp group. This is an ongoing cycle and it continues with new riders adjusting to low fees and old riders leaving the country after expiring of their visa. FNV (Federati Nederlandse Wakbeweging) is trying to work with riders in different cities in Netherlands. I met their representatives through our professor. I send contacts of different Deliveroo riders and asked them to attend meeting with Fnv to organize a Deliveroo union in The Hague. I left The Hague in July and a month later riders in The Hague successfully organized a strike for few days. The strike was culmination of continuous diatribe on Deliveroo whatsapp group, discussion in front of restaurants. What I felt was lacking an initiative by rider to mobilise and organize riders as it is very time consuming process and I realized that even for Fnv it was hard to engage riders in The Hague. The only way forward for Fnv in The Hague is to reach out to students in different universities by organizing events over there to gain better access to future riders. Also to engage local riders, which are more critical than migrant students, who avoid risks. This migrant students from universities going to be new bulwark along with local unions of worker against these platform based gigs.

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