Comment - Plucky little drivers’ union has stomach for a fast food fight

It must be tempting for gig economy firms to think delivery drivers are powerless – and squeeze them for a bit more.

By David Walsh
Monday, 10th January 2022, 9:51 am
The IWGB union is small but influential - and giving downtrodden drivers a voice.
The IWGB union is small but influential - and giving downtrodden drivers a voice.

Because what are they going to do?

Most couriers are self-employed, rarely see each other and far too busy to get organised and take them on.

But Stuart Delivery - a sub-contractor to food delivery firm Just Eat - failed to reckon with the Independent Workers of Great Britain.

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This plucky little union has dragged the company - part of the £9bn-a-year DPD empire - blinking into the spotlight in a row over pay.

Drivers are furious at a cut in the minimum fee for journeys below half-a-mile from £4.50 to £3.40. They are also upset at being financially penalised for delays that aren’t their fault, such as when the food isn’t ready.

The firm says its new deal offers more money to most of them.

But the upshot is a strike which has cost Just Eat and McDonald’s thousands in lost orders – and spread to cities across the UK.

All that, plus the bad publicity, must be giving Stuart Delivery a serious headache. But before you feel too sorry for the firm, ask why it won’t recognise, or even talk to, the unions.

Some see the gig economy as a clever way of paying the cheapest possible wages without the cost of National Insurance, sick pay, pension or other benefits.

Hostility to unions is a way of ensuring it stays that way.

Meanwhile, Stuart Delivery’s attempts to exclude the IWGB from meetings with drivers - as happened in Sheffield this week - just look shady.

The union has already won a victory because the pay cut was supposed to come in last summer before being delayed to December.

Now it is striking again - boycotting Just Eat orders from McDonald’s in Sheffield.

It is commonly accepted that staff at firms which recognise unions have better pay and conditions than those without. And there isn’t a boss in Sheffield who won’t claim they are the most important part of the company.

Stuart Delivery now needs to do the right thing, because in this David and Goliath battle the drivers clearly have the stomach for a fight.