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Grumbles in Hong Kong as Deliveroo riders strike over changes to work schedules and benefits

Food deliveries in business districts hit as couriers protest over tweaks they claim will allow company to cut pay

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 January, 2018, 5:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 January, 2018, 10:22pm

Scores of riders working for one of Hong Kong’s most popular online food delivery companies entered the second day of a “strike” on Tuesday, disrupting orders in the city’s key business districts during the busy lunch hour.

Up to 100 riders for Deliveroo were believed to have stopped work a day after announcing a protest over a tweak to their work schedules as a result of a new electronic platform that they claimed would enable the company to cut working hours and thus pay.

“We’re experiencing service disruption and are unable to take any orders in several areas right now,” a customer relations staffer told the Post at about noon. “We apologise for any inconvenience caused and will be back with you shortly.”

The staffer said the districts affected included most of Central and Western, including Sheung Wan, Kennedy Town and Sai Ying Pun, as well as some of the Causeway Bay area. Orders were still being taken in Eastern district but would be “a bit slow”.

The company was gradually restoring services to the affected areas on Tuesday night, with general manager Brian Lo pledging to improve the way management communicated company changes to its fleet.

“We are cognisant of the fact that we must double down on these efforts,” Lo said, adding that the company was still evaluating the losses from the strike internally.

“We have spoken to lots of different staff individually and in groups to answer questions and allay fears [about the new system]. I do believe we have been able to get more understanding from riders and lots of constructive feedback.”

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The company operates a fleet of more than 1,000 couriers in Hong Kong.

One Deliveroo courier, who attended a meeting between riders in Sheung Wan on Monday, said they were angry about a new update to the Deliveroo system that would allow the company to “deduct about one or two hours of work time” from their schedules during non-peak hours to reduce employees on the roads during less busy times.

“With the scheduling, it will deduct about 14 hours a week off each rider. That’s 56 hours a month so if you’re getting, say, HK$100 an hour, that’s about HK$5,000 to HK$6,000 in lost wages,” said the rider, who requested anonymity.

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He said all the road staff wanted was to revert to the original arrangements in which each contractor worked fixed hours with a paid one-hour lunch break. The new system was also likely to hit non-Chinese-speaking drivers more than Chinese ones, who could object to scheduling not to their liking, he claimed.

While pay under normal arrangements was good, the rider said the company had recently been squeezing drivers in terms of benefits. “They give promotions and everything to office staff but riders, who are the wheels of the company, get nothing.”

Benefits scrapped included a HK$200 subsidy for petrol and compensation for traffic tickets. Regular monthly lunches arranged by the company between management and delivery staff had also disappeared, the rider said.

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“There’s nothing left to grab from the riders so now they are reducing working times,” he quipped.

Deliveroo, however, said later on Tuesday that the new tool was aimed at better matching riders’ preferred working hours with customer demand and gave them the ability to choose when and where to work, increasing certainty over their earnings.

Earlier on Tuesday, the company confirmed that “a small group of riders had shared their response to this development which has led to a temporary disruption of Deliveroo’s services on Hong Kong Island” and that the company was in dialogue with them to “resolve the issue”.

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The company said its data showed that the number of working hours allocated through the new availability tool was at the same level as what the riders had indicated through the tool.

“Some riders’ working hours have even gone up, compared to the record in early January before the introduction of the new availability tool,” the spokesman said.

Some riders’ working hours have even gone up
Deliveroo spokesman

The company said it was committed to offering flexibility and well-paid work to its hundreds of riders and that it constantly reviewed its system of staff perks and payments based on factors such as customer demand, seasonality and feedback from riders.

He added that all riders in its fleet were treated equally but acknowledged that more work was needed to improve communications in both Chinese and English.

On Wednesday, Deliveroo said its services across Hong Kong had returned to normal and that it would continue “constructive dialogue with our key stakeholders”.

A company spokesman said the “strike” involved only a small number of riders.

“The company held talks with the riders [over the new work arrangements] and explained it would allow them more flexibility on when and where to work,” he added.

Couriers from the company also went on strike in Belgium and the Netherlands this month after the company refused to delay its decision to treat all workers as self-employed beginning in February.

Deliveroo is one of three dominant courier services in Hong Kong, along with Foodpanda and UberEats.

Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung