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U.K.-based Deliveroo is the latest third-party delivery service getting ready to debut on the public market, with plans to go public in early April. As usual, the move comes with the standard buffet of controversies surrounding third-party delivery services, particularly those around pay and protections for workers actually doing the last mile of the food delivery. Unlike usual, the labor issue is actually making would-be investors think twice this time.
Six major U.K. investors, including Aberdeen Standard, BMO Global, and Aviva Investors, said last week that they will not participate in Deliveroo’s initial public market, citing working conditions for the delivery service’s couriers and drivers.
Like DoorDash, Uber Eats, and others, Deliveroo classifies the folks doing the actual food delivery as independent contractors, and therefore isn’t required to offer minimum wage, paid time off, or paid sick leave. As we’ve written ad nauseam, this is problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is that many workers struggle to make a living wage off these delivery gigs, as evidenced by a recent report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism that found some Deliveroo riders earn as little as £2 ($2.76 USD) per hour during a shift.
What’s turning investors off, however, is more than just an ethical issue. Some apparently see a business built on gig workers as a risky model because of the regulatory scrutiny that model is getting of late, at least in the U.K. and in Europe. Case in point: Uber recently lost a fight against the U.K. supreme court and must now classify its drivers as employees, not independent contractors. For now, that doesn’t impact the company’s Eats business, but it’s been enough to, in the words of investment forecasters, “dampen the mood” around Deliveroo’s IPO.
Deliveroo itself admitted in its investment prospectus that having to reclassify its workers as employees would have a “material impact” on the business. Part of the reason third-party services, including Deliveroo, have been able to achieve such high valuations in the past is because their businesses are built off the idea of minimizing labor costs. Paying drivers a minimum wage and other benefits eats into those costs, and puts the idea of steady profitability further out of reach. Additionally, Deliveroo suggested having to change its worker classifications would also impact its ability to operate in certain markets.
The chances of Deliveroo having to reclassify its workers seems high. Just Eat Takeaway.com, another major food delivery service in the U.K. and Europe, as already pledged to do away with the gig worker model. The aforementioned Uber fight with the U.K. supreme court also doesn’t bode well for Deliveroo.
What is yet to be determined is whether this will have a ripple effect across the pond. Some recent events, like California passing Prop 22 in November of last year, seem to suggest gig workers are losing the fight against third-party delivery. On the other hand, Just Eat Takeaway.com has plans to acquire U.S.-based Grubhub, which means it may eventually bring its employee-based model Stateside.
Right now there seem to be more questions than answers surrounding the fate of third-party delivery services. But as more countries and governments take a harder stance against the gig-worker model, and as more investors think twice before backing such ventures, we may finally start to see the balance of power start to shift in favor of the folks on whose backs these businesses are actually built.
Restaurant Tech ‘Round the Web
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