Dubai delivery drivers quit jobs in rare protest over pay

Dubai, United Arab Emirates –

Food delivery drivers protesting pay cuts and grueling working conditions staged an extremely rare strike in Dubai this weekend – a massive strike that has crippled one of the country’s leading delivery apps and revived concerns about working conditions in the emirate.

The strike began late Saturday and ended early Monday, when London-based Deliveroo agreed in a letter to riders to restore workers’ pay to US$2.79 per delivery instead of the proposed rate of 2, $38 that triggered the work stoppage as the company tried to cut costs amid soaring fuel prices.

The Amazon-backed company also backtracked on its plan to extend shifts to 14 hours a day.

“Clearly some of our original intentions were unclear and we are listening to the riders,” Deliveroo said in a statement to The Associated Press. “So we have currently put all changes on hold and will work with our agency riders to ensure we have a structure that works for everyone and has the best interests of our agency riders at heart. »

Strikes remain illegal in the United Arab Emirates, an autocratic federation of seven emirates that bans unions and criminalizes dissent. The Dubai government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the strike.

Dubai delivery men, who have become a mainstay in the financial hub as demand has soared during the pandemic, have few protections.

To cut costs, companies like Deliveroo outsource bikes, logistics and liability to contracting agencies – a labor pipeline that is prevalent in the Gulf Arab states and can lead to mistreatment. Many poor migrants are driven into debt by paying their contractors exorbitant visa fees to secure their jobs.

The UK food delivery service is valued at over $8 billion.

The news of the pay cut at Deliveroo – announced internally last week as the cost of fuel soared amid the fallout from the war in Ukraine and continued supply chain bottlenecks – was devastating for 30-year-old driver Mohammadou Labarang.

Already he was paying record fuel prices out of pocket in the UAE and barely getting by, he said, with a wife and 7-month-old son back in Cameroon to support him.

When Labarang took to social media, he realized he was far from alone. Soon, he said, hundreds of Deliveroo drivers were organizing on Telegram and WhatsApp.

Dozens of riders parked their bikes near various Deliveroo warehouses in protest, according to images widely shared on social media. Some have closed their apps. Others rested in their lodgings. Others went to restaurants and urged fellow couriers to stop mid-shift.

“All around Dubai, we saw food getting cold on restaurant counters,” Labarang said. “He grew far beyond anyone thought possible. »

As a result, the Deliveroo app – one of the country’s most popular delivery apps, especially during the final days of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan – was largely down over the weekend.

Some drivers have shared WhatsApp voicemails with AP from their managers at contracted agencies demanding they return to work immediately and “do not engage in any illegal activity”.

Aware that they risked being detained and expelled for protesting, the drivers were quick to point out that their strike was in no way political.

“We know the rules, we know it’s sensitive, it’s not against the UAE,” said a 30-year-old Pakistani driver named Mohammed, who declined to give his last name for fear of reprisals. .

But he said he was also risking his life every day, cruising Dubai’s dangerous roads without accident insurance.

“We are human,” he said as he mounted his motorbike, returning to the routine of downtown Dubai, where delivery men rushed to restaurants and apartment towers in the languid Gulf heat. ” We are not Robots. »

11:47 ET 02-05-22

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