‘Alarming risks’ to Scotland’s food delivery couriers

A new study has highlighted the risks encountered by food delivery couriers, with a majority feeling “unsafe” when at work and every woman surveyed having experienced sexual harassment or abuse.

The two-year project, involving the University of Strathclyde, gathered feedback from 207 workers, including 33 women, employed in the food delivery industry in cities across Scotland.

It reveals more than 81% felt unsafe in their job, yet continued owing to financial necessity, while 78% believed their employer focused more on the needs of customers rather than employees. More than 60% suffered racial or ethnic abuse and 55% were physically abused, primarily owing to road incidents and accidents.

The study was led at Heriot-Watt University and also involved Nottingham Trent University.

Dr Anastasios Hadjisolomou, of Strathclyde’s Department of Work, Employment and Organisation, the University’s lead in the research, said: “This research, using and responding to Scotland’s Fair Work Framework, highlights that Scotland’s vision to be a Fair Work Nation is far from being met.

As this research shows, those working in the delivery sector in Scotland remain trapped in a precarious working regime, whilst data reveals unfair and hazardous working conditions.

“With this report, we call employers and policy makers to protect those who are most vulnerable in the Scottish labour market, and society. Only then we start talking about a fair economy and a fair society.”

The food courier sector flourished following the COVID-19 pandemic, with an increasing number of restaurants, stores and food delivery companies delivering directly to customers.

Employment in food delivery remains an important avenue for many people to enter the labour market, and a primary source of income for 48% of those surveyed, particularly among migrant workers. However, the sector is said to lack essential policies to protect employees, normalising unfair practices. Migrant workers, comprising a significant portion, face barriers such as qualification recognition, visa constraints, and language proficiency, limiting their opportunities to move into alternative careers.

The report documents first-hand accounts from food delivery couriers.

Among them is ‘Jordan’, whose real name has not been published to protect his identity.

He said: “I’m constantly being threatened by people not only customers but on the road, it’s like they see a guy with a delivery bag and they’re constantly giving me grief.”

‘Jay’ said: “It’s very dangerous work because there’s more and more ‘hit and run’ specially for riders working at night and some colleagues really get hurt and then they can’t work of course.”

Roz Foyer, General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), supports calls for delivery couriers to be protected by employment rights.

She said: “This report shines a light on the galling abuse suffered by food delivery couriers which cannot be allowed to go unchecked.

“To read that all women surveyed had experienced sexual harassment or abuse, with 81% of couriers overall feeling fundamentally unsafe in their work, is inexcusable and requires urgent action from government.

“These workers need protection. If we are to become a Fair Work Nation by 2025, the exploitative, abusive practices this vital research…highlights must be purged.”

The research was funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE).