Foodora workers, known for cycling around Norwegian cities in shocking pink outfits as they deliver food from restaurants, have emerged triumphant from a nearly six-week strike. Their victory came “against all the odds,” according to strike leader Paul Olai-Olssen, who said the food carriers simply “wanted the same security that most other workers in Norway have.”
Companies such as Deliveroo, Foodora and Uber Eats have expanded rapidly over the last few years as to meet the increased demand for food delivery. However, this new sector has become notorious for its precarious pay and working conditions, as well as for systematically miscategorising the employment status of riders as a way of shirking labour costs.
The first collective agreement within the "platform economy"
The deal now in place, which mostly involved wages and compensation for the cyclists’ use of their own bicycles, mobile phones and uniforms, is viewed as significant in the “new economy.” That because most of the food deliverers for Foodora work independently but managed to organize themselves even though they have no traditional workplace and bicycle alone, responding to calls for food from restaurants and cafes around town.
Since it resulted in a tariff ageement between Fellesforbundet and Foodora Norway, it means that all of the country’s cycling delivery people stand to benefit. The pact also includes provisions for early retirement and a raise of around NOK 15,000 a year for those working full time.
Unique strike and agreement
This collective agreemen is unique in Norway, but could inspire workers in the so-called platform economy also outside Norway. The fact that these workers have been able to organize, negotiate, strike and at last get a collective agreement is a breakthrough for workers. This category of workers are difficult to organize as there are many immigrants, students, part-time workers and big turnaround.
The Foodora agreement is not the first collective agreement within the platform economy in the world, but the first that is a result of a strike. The strikers were very visible in Oslo throughout the six weeks, they put up a big tent, offered free repair of cycles to the public, served waffles, arranged "biking demonstrations". Each day they make a video which they put on their Facebook page. Through this they also got lots of media attention. The number of union members also grew rapidly throughout the strike, making it possible to increase the number of strikers gradually, also to Trondheim.
Foodora strike could set an example
Foodora Norway is owned by the Swedish company Delivery Hero, one of the biggest companies in the world offering app-based food deliverances from restaurants. In Sweden only a few Foodora workers are organized. The strike in Norway may inspire the Swedes to take up the fight. In the rest of the world it could be more difficult as in most countries workers within this sector is treated as self-employed, while the Foodora workers in Norway are employed. But the action in Norway is part of a wider trend of delivery riders fighting back against appalling employment conditions, with recent demonstrations in Belgium and the launch of the Delivery Riders Alliance in Australia, according to ITF.
Research shows it is possible to organize riders
A recent ETUI policy brief shows that only a small minority of Deliveroo riders in Belgium, who are predominantly male, young and students, hold negative views about trade unions. Lack of exposure to and knowledge about unions was instead cited as the biggest reason why many of the riders are not members, with many of them undecided or ambivalent about the idea. The paper also examines the low unionisation rate among riders that seems to be partly due to a lack of organising initiatives and strategies on the part of trade unions. Organising the riders, fostering solidarity between student, migrant and self-employed riders, and building a collective identity requires tailored organising strategies which take into consideration the riders' individual situations as well as the labour market context. Trade unions could offer stability, experience and knowledge in the fast-changing platform-based food delivery industry.
Creative thinking was important when the Foodora workers built their union in Norway. An example is that the transport workers' union in Oslo ordered food from Foodora for their meetings to get in contact with the riders.