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Drivers’ anger as Labour hosts Deliveroo ‘PR event’ at annual conference

The ‘delivery rider’ advertised on the panel turned out to be an ‘engagement manager’ for Deliveroo

Ruby Lott-Lavigna
27 September 2022, 11.16am

Deliveroo riders protest outside the London Stock Exchange, April 2021

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Guy Bell / Alamy Stock Photo

Delivery drivers have criticised Labour for hosting a Deliveroo “PR event” at its annual conference with no gig workers present.

The panel, organised by both Deliveroo and Labour-right campaign group Progressive Britain, was slated to include a Labour MP, a GMB representative, a Deliveroo representative, and a delivery driver.

But Martin Hermoso, listed on the event description as a “Deliveroo rider”, is in fact an ‘engagement manager’ at the company. Deliveroo insisted Hermoso “began riding with us and continues to ride today,” although his LinkedIn profile lists him purely in corporate roles during his seven years with the business, and he made no reference to any experiences of being a rider during the event.

Speaking to openDemocracy, couriers for the company – who can earn well below the minimum wage – criticised the lack of gig workers at the event.

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“They should have had riders in the room,” said Joe Durbidge, 30, a Deliveroo driver of three years and an Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) rep. “I think it’s telling that they couldn’t even organise a rider to come along and talk.

“This form of dialogue is largely cosmetic. This was a PR event launched off the back of their deal.”

Earlier this year, Deliveroo announced a union “partnership” with GMB, effectively blocking recognition from the IWGB, which had publicly represented members since 2016 and staged strikes with its drivers.

The GMB recognition agreement received criticism at the time for not providing employee status for workers, denying them access to basic employment rights such as sick pay and redundancy pay. Couriers also argued that the “guaranteed national minimum wage” would not be upheld as it would only cover when riders were actively on a job, not when they were waiting for orders.

Other riders questioned why an event like this was taking place at Labour’s conference. “It’s quite mind-boggling, a political party that doesn’t know whether it’s for the people or against,” said Shaf, also a rider of seven years for Deliveroo, who asked us not to publish his surname for fear of being “singled out” by the firm.

In a Deliveroo leaflet distributed to attendees at the panel, titled “Delivering a progressive gig economy”, the company said it wanted to “give riders a greater voice”.

Speaking on the panel, GMB national secretary Andy Prendergast said the union’s membership within Deliveroo was in the “hundreds” and had risen since the recognition. In 2020, Deliveroo reported having 110,000 riders.

Durbidge, however, said: “[IWGB has] lots of members. We've proven that in the past with the actions that we've organised. I've never met a rider that's been a member of GMB.”

Unions do not disclose their membership numbers.

Deliveroo meeting screengrab.png

The Deliveroo event, which took place on the Monday of Labour’s annual conference, saw speeches from shadow minister for employment Alison McGovern and Paul Bedford, vice president of policy at Deliveroo.

Bedford told the room that characterising the gig economy as precarious work was “too simplistic,” and that “there is a lot of evidence that people are actively choosing to do this work for positive reasons.”

Labour does not organise or formally endorse fringe events, but they are nonetheless booked and promoted through the party: for instance, in the official listing of events taking place during the conference.

The event is not the only time Labour has received criticism for its handling of issues around workers’ rights during its annual conference. Political group Momentum told openDemocracy Labour’s conference had shown the party “actively working to make sure workers’ rights were not discussed just days after the Tories announced a new attack on workers’ rights”, after it expressed concerns over motions it had put forward.

A Deliveroo spokesperson told openDemocracy: “We were pleased to have the opportunity to discuss our partnership with the GMB union which will see Deliveroo collectively bargain with the GMB over pay and work together to support the wellbeing of the 100,000 riders who choose to work with us.”

Labour’s McGovern has also been approached for comment.

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