Business

Gig Workers Were Promised a Better Deal. Then They Were Outsourced

Another subcontractor in Liverpool, who declined to give his name because he was worried about losing his job, has also encountered problems. He claims that Randstad does not compensate its remote couriers—who are able to start work from home instead of from a Just Eat courier hub—if they suffer bike problems while they are supposed to be working. “If I have a puncture or something happens with my bike, [Randstad] doesn’t put me on pause, they switch off my app,” says the courier. “So even if it’s one hour or two hours, it’s not paid.” 

In response to these allegations, Rachael Langton, operations director at Randstad UK, said the company’s “bespoke agency worker delivery model in partnership with Just Eat” allowed couriers to “enjoy a blend of job flexibility and benefits including hourly pay (higher than minimum/living wage), sick pay, holiday pay, and pension contributions.” Andrew Kenny, Just Eat UK’s managing director, says the company takes courier welfare seriously. “Just Eat was the first delivery aggregator in the UK to offer a worker model where couriers receive an hourly wage, sick pay, holiday pay, and pension contributions,” he says.

Academics who study the platform economy are concerned that outsourcing’s main purpose is to shield well-known gig economy companies—which receive more scrutiny—from blame when workforce problems inevitably arise. “Subcontracting out allows them to say, ‘We don’t have a relationship with this courier. We have a relationship with our subcontractor, and they take care of it,’” says Matt Cole, a researcher at Fairwork, a research group at Oxford University. But he still believes that Just Eat’s use of Randstad is a step in the right direction, even if the contracts are only temporary, lasting for six months. “This is a degree better than the self-employed, independent contractor standard that existed in the early days of the gig economy,” he says. “But it’s essentially only climbing up one rung in the ladder of precarity towards the standard employment contract.”

It is not clear how much outsourcing is costing Just Eat, as the company and Randstad declined to share financial details about the contract. But in Randstad’s latest results, released in October 2021, the company reported 57 percent growth in the UK (though it did not provide a revenue figure), which is a much steeper increase than in any other European country that quarter. Speaking in an earnings call, Jacques van den Broek, the company’s CEO, attributed this growth to logistics, ecommerce, and the gig economy. 

The following month, Just Eat CEO Jitse Groen spoke at Randstad’s capital markets day—an event designed to share more information about a company with investors and analysts—and said the company’s main challenge was hiring enough people, especially in markets where there was very low unemployment. “Obviously, hiring a lot of people in so many different markets is difficult for us, and therefore parties like Randstad help us set those contracts up and get us those people,” he said.

Outsourcing staff is not a new practice for Just Eat. In 2017, three years before it announced plans to give couriers more benefits, it had struck a deal with Stuart, which still allows riders to be paid per drop, unlike those working for Randstad. The company operated in general obscurity until it attempted to drop that fee from £4.50 to £3.40, prompting couriers in the British city of Sheffield to strike in December. 

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