App delivery drivers mobilized across Brazil to demand better work conditions

The national walkout on Wednesday May 1 was organized to demand better conditions for thousands of informal motorcycle delivery workers

July 02, 2020 by Brasil de Fato
App delivery workers' strike. Photo: Petro Stropasolas / Brasil de Fato

App delivery drivers went on strike on Wednesday May 1 in cities across Brazil to demand better work conditions. In Sao Paulo as many as 5 thousand app delivery drivers participated in the mobilization.

They are demanding: increase in minimum rate, end of the unjust blockades against the delivery people, and support from the apps for the workers who get infected with COVID-19 or have accidents.

“We drive across Sao Paulo for only R14 or R15 per delivery and we do not have any benefits. We do not have the conditions to continue working like this. From 8am to 11pm to only earn R100 is cruel. We can no longer handle this. We demand that these apps improve or we will continue to go on strike until they improve. Or they can leave Brazil and we can return to what was here before, the people had contracts within companies, formal work, but today we no longer have this,” expressed motorcycle driver Alexandre Lima Brito.

“We are here united due to the common suffering we share as comrades. The sensation of being here [in the mobilization] is great. I think there is nothing better than being here, it is something money cannot buy, things that capitalism hates, that it cant buy,” said motorcycle driver Paulo Lima, he created the Movement of Anti-fascist Delivery Drivers amid the pandemic.

App delivery drivers block a main road in a downtown neighborhood of São Paulo during a national strike demanding better working conditions. Photo: Pedro Stropasolas / Brasil de Fato

Major mobilizations were registered in the cities of Sao Paulo, Rio de janeiro, Brasilia, Fortaleza, Curitiba, and others.

App delivery: once a choice, now only option

The gig as an app delivery person began as a way to make extra income. Diógenes de Souza could never imagine that in such little time, the novel coronavirus would worsen an economic crisis without precedent in the country. What was once a choice, now became the only option.

In the first month of the pandemic, the go-kart track where he worked, a race course where people were trained and races were held, closed its doors and let all employees go. Since then, rain or shine, Diógenes is on the streets 8 to 12 hours a day working as a ‘motoboy’ as the mainly motorcycle riding delivery workers are called.

In less than six months, he has directly felt the downsides of informality. “If you don’t go out, you don’t earn anything. I hurt my knee, I fell from my bike and was away for ten days. Ten days that I didn’t earn a penny. I don’t have any insurance. I don’t get social security, I don’t get anything. I have no safety net,” he laments.

A father of 3, he commutes more than an hour daily from the city of Cotia, to the state capital, São Paulo. The low income earned on these apps doesn’t allow him for a single day off during the week.

“I leave home at 10am and return only around 10pm, 11pm. There is no time left over. Get home, take a shower, lay down and sleep. I wake up in the morning and go to work again. With no leisure time,” he explains.

When he thinks about his work as a delivery rider, the risks involved are the first things that come to his mind.

“My wife is afraid for me, she would prefer I work somewhere else. She knows of the risk of an accident, the risk of getting the virus. There’s nothing we can do. I have to take the risk. It’s the only option available. The formal labor market isn’t hiring,” he vents.

Data from the Health Ministry shows an alarming reality: 1.4 million formal jobs have been lost since the arrival of COVID-19 in the country. The Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) estimates that 40% of the Brazilian population is in the informal market.

A large portion of these workers with no formal employment ties, like Diógenes, thousands of app delivery riders, will partake in a national strike this Wednesday, July 1st.

The so called “stoppage” will begin at 9am and demands better conditions for the workers. Workers will protest collectively by riding and halting traffic on major roads of Brazilian cities, mainly in São Paulo.

Among the delivery riders’ demands, are fair pay based on a minimum rate per fare that is higher than the current one, and a standard amount for each kilometer traversed.

The immediate cessation of unjustified account suspensions, which according to organizers of the strike are frequently conducted by companies like Rappi, Ifood, Loggi and Ubereats, is also one of their main demands.

“The best way to help us is to pay us more fairly for the deliveries. Today the rates are too low. If they paid us fairly, the riders would sort themselves out. We could pay for our bikes’ insurance,” says Diógenes, who at 43 has no other possibility other than continuing to work for these platforms.

“If I had another job, I would never get involved with this app business again,” declared one of the delivery drivers. Photo: Roberto Parizotti/Fotos Públicas

Though with different characters, the stories keep repeating themselves. A delivery woman who prefers not be identified due to fear of retaliation, decided to hop on her bicycle and register on delivery platforms, when she found out the bar she was working at was shutting down because of the pandemic.

For the last two months, flat tires and break pad replacements have become part of her day to day. The rider, who works mainly in downtown São Paulo, is critical of the lack of infrastructure provided by the companies to ensure adequate and humane working conditions.

She recounts that going to the toilet and eating, for example, are totally compromised during a long shift on two wheels.

“12 hours on the road, sitting on sidewalks to eat, because even though it has all this money, iFood doesn’t have a sink anywhere, a toilet nor a table for people to eat on. Folks think it’s possible to use hand sanitizer … 12 hours on the road,” she notes.

The worker also defends the notion that the apps need to be more transparent about payment policies, and about when remuneration is altered.

For Simões, who has worked as a ‘motoboy’ his whole life and with delivery apps for the last two years, it’s clear how the number of delivery persons has gone up, even amid a pandemic. At the same time, the pay rates per kilometer, which are not standardized, are lower.

The apps claim that pay rates vary “depending on the weather, day of the week, delivery area and distance traveled.”

A resident of the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area who did not want to be identified, affirms that ‘motoboys’ went months without ever receiving any promotional bonuses added to their daily pay, which was commonplace. Only after the workers mobilized did the situation normalize.

“We don’t want to our pockets to hurt, nor the business owners, or the customer. Not even ifood or Rappi themselves. We just want to get paid what is fair. The worst thing is that they don’t listen to us,” he laments.

Simões believes that it is totally plausible that companies pay delivery riders more. “We are not asking to make millions in cash. We are asking them to be clear about how much they are paying us. We don’t know how much we get paid per kilometer. Some fares it’s R$0.70. Fares that are R$1 are almost impossible,” he states.

Paying rent and with kids to raise, informal jobs are his only way out. “We can’t be massacred like this. We are tired. I’ll be honest: if I had another job, I would never get involved with this app business again. They are jerks. There is no clarity. However, my family’s survival depends on this, but I have to work 12, 13, 14 hours per day.”

Permanently more precarious

Besides the 12,7 million people out of work, the country has a massive segment of the population with no access to income, and living under the threat of hunger amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to data from IBGE, the number or workers that went without pay during the month of May is 9,7 million. In the same month, unemployment reached 12,6%.

Faced with this context, the solution for many professionals has been to turn to informal labor. Information sent to our newsroom from the company Rappi, shows the app had around 200 thousand delivery workers in Latin America up till March. However, with the start of the pandemic, there was an 111% rise in this figure.

According to labor lawyer Thiago Barison, the delivery platforms act in a predatory manner, clawing at social rights in search of increased profits. The doctor in labor law and social security from the University of São Paulo, Barison explains that the companies present themselves as mere mediators “between a supposed self-employed person and the client,” when in fact, they are the ones making the rules.

The expert says that judicial subordination, leads to actual subordination.

“In a hidden manner, the apps retain, within their policies, all the executive powers of an employer in relation to an employee. They determine who can be hired, what the requisites are, what the rules on remuneration are. Furthermore, it allows for more precise control over labor and wages,” explains the attorney, also a member of the Brazilian Association of Jurists for Democracy (ABJD).

Barison understands that the criticism from workers, about account suspensions and low wages, reveal the effects of the power that is in the hands of the app companies. Directly affecting pay.

“It starts with higher pay in the beginning, this excites the rider, who begins committing himself to really long shifts, and with that they are able to make a little more than minimum wage. However, the degree of exploitation is huge,” criticizes the lawyer.

“As time goes by and the employee becomes loyal, the company that controls the app, without transparency about the process, can alter the payment rules, and progressively reduce the gains the worker will receive for the same duties performed,” he affirms.

“The downsides are enormous for workers, besides the lack of basic rights, like a work shift limited to an amount, after which you begin to lose their health, family time, and other assets that can’t be replaced,” he points out.

To illustrate the perversion of the relationship between these companies and their ‘delivery partners,’ he cites a work related accident as an example. “A ‘motoboy’ that gets into an accident and has a serious side effect, that reduces his ability to work, even though he is individually contributing to social security, he still has no access to workplace accident compensation,” he highlights.

Frequent suspensions, scarce dialogue

The Terms and Conditions of these platforms, permit the suspension of riders by the company in case of non-compliance. Among the infractions that can lead to this, are fraud on the app, suspicious activity of any nature, third party usage of profiles, and many others.

That being said, it’s unanimous for the delivery men that suspensions are done without any justification and are frequent, compromising the ‘motoboy’s’ only revenue stream, precarious as it is.

“Most of the time we talk to robots to help us solve issues that arise while on the streets. There are many, I can’t even explain them all because it’s so complex. We don’t have any way to communicate and defend ourselves. If the client says we ‘didn’t deliver’ the items, we are penalized, though there is no mechanism to prove we’ve actually made the delivery,” says another partner, who spends most of her time on a bicycle in the streets of São Paulo.

“Besides this, we have to pay for everything since we are autonomous. What autonomy is this that doesn’t even afford us the right to defend ourselves? One in which if you reject a ride you get less and less fares? One in which if you don’t work Sundays, your ratings go down,” she questions.

COVID-19

An already delicate scenario became worse with the arrival of the pandemic. Overworked and with no right to quarantine, since they only get paid if they go out on the streets, the costs associated with personal protective equipment is weighing on the professional’s pockets.

Diógene remembers that he received PPEs from the companies only at the beginning of the outbreak, once. The concern with infection is shared by Simões, who criticizes the quality of the hand sanitizer he received from the platforms.

“Everyone stopped. Brazil stopped. The world stopped. Yet we keep working. We, trash collectors, nurses, doctors. We are one of the segments that could be seeing more deaths.”

A recent study undertaken by the Labor Reform Monitoring and Study Network (Remir Trabalho), from the Campinas State University (Unicamp), showed that 60,3% of motoboys interviewed claimed wage losses compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Another 27.6% said that income stayed the same, and only 10.3% of those surveyed say they are making more money than before. The study spoke to 252 people in 26 different cities between April 13th and 20th.

Mobilizing is the solution

The bicycle delivery woman sees mobilization as the only way to be heard. “Unfortunately they only care about money. We are the base of the pyramid. It is hard for us to show this since we are always on the weaker side, which is easier to coerce, to intimidate,” she contemplates.

Ready for action alongside other ‘motoboys’ from Rio de Janeiro, Simões says the strike shows the delivery professionals will no longer remain silent.

“If they don’t budge, we will have to strike again. The next strike will be on a weekend, and if they don’t budge then, we’ll do it again for a month. We will go broke, go through financial difficulties, but we’ll strike for the month,” he defends.

For Duda, who also belongs to the Antifascist Delivery Workers group, the defense of democracy goes hand in hand with the defense of better working conditions.

“In this process of realizing how much labor rights are being eroded, alongside the growth of these fascist ideologies, who would like to silence labor unions, we come to realize that fighting for our rights is inevitably fighting against fascism,” says the member of the collective, defending the recognition of employment ties for delivery persons.

Statements

The company Rappi, via their public relations department, affirmed that they recognize the ‘motoboys’ right to peaceful protest, and that the team focused on communicating with delivery partners has expanded, not only this, but that they offer 24 hours support through the app.

In the press release, the company alleges that it offers, since last year, individual accident insurance, permanent injury or accidental death, and physical spaces for rest, which are closed due to the pandemic.

According to data from the company itself, “75% of delivery partners make more than R$18 an hour, while actively accepting deliveries, and that almost half of riders spend less than one hour a day connected to the app.”

The purchase of hand sanitizers and face masks for delivery partners is being done and delivered weekly, as well as COVID-19 education and prevention campaigns.

Uber Eats told us, again through a press release, that all wages made on the app “are available in a transparent way to partners, via the app itself,” says the document.

“The amounts paid by consumers for each delivery are determined by a series of factors, like the time of the request and the distance traveled,” says the release.

The company considers that the partner review system, compiled by users, “is the most practical and effective way to ensure quality of service,” and relays that they have undertaken specific actions against COVID-19, like financial assistance to workers and the reimbursement of hand sanitizer and cleaning product costs.

In a statement sent to our newsroom, the company iFood declared that it “supports the freedom of expression of our partners in all forms. Under no circumstance are delivery people suspended for partaking in any movements. This measure is taken only when our Terms and Conditions are violated, and this goes for all delivery partners, as well as restaurants and consumers.”

The platform claims that cases of deactivation only happen when they “receive tips and have evidences of violations of the terms and conditions, which may include, for example, the stealing of deliveries, payment fraud, or renting accounts to third parties.”

In cases like these, iFood alleges that the delivery partner receives a message on their app and is directed to a specific chatroom to understand the motives behind the suspension, and ask for further analysis of the occurrence.

The company also alleges that when a ‘motoboy’ rejects “too many requests, the system understands that the partner is not available at the moment, thus pauses the app, and allows for new delivery requests around 15 minutes later.”

The company also claims that all registered delivery partners have personal insurance benefits since 2019. “With it, their medical and dental bills are covered, as well as payments in case of temporary or permanent injury, and also death resulting from an accident. The insurance brings no cost at all upon our partners.”

The app administrators also declared that more than R$25 million were directed to anti COVID-19 initiatives. The platform says it began the distribution of hand sanitizer and reusable face masks in kits intended for lasting a whole month.

“iFood came up with specific logistics for the retrieval of this material, to avoid large gatherings, the partner gets an invitation on his or her app, as if it was a delivery request, and their time to and from the facilities is paid for as if it were.”

*Some interviewees preferred not to have their identities revealed in fear of retaliation.

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