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2 Oct 2021

Polly Smythe, Tribune

UK: Ocado accused of 'fire and rehire' tactics amid confusion over rehiring of drivers following the end of third-party courier company arrangements

"Ocado Drivers Are Fighting to Unionise the Gig Economy", 2 October 2021

Ahmad Fahim found out his wife was pregnant while he was on a job for Ocado Zoom. He’d been couriering for the same-day grocery delivery service since it began in 2019, although he…was classified as an independent contractor working for Stuart Delivery Ltd.

He says he was promised an hourly wage of £15, and earning additional bonuses for delivery slots. Despite being responsible for his own expenses, such as insurance, petrol, tax, and car maintenance, Ahmad soon found himself taking home between £1,200 to £1,700 per week...

Then… Ocado Zoom announced they would be trialling a partnership with Ryde...As the volume of work available to riders on the Stuart app fell, it quickly became obvious that this trial was in fact a permanent move away from Stuart. Despite pay and conditions being considerably worse than on Stuart, the drivers ‘all rushed into Ryde before we lost our jobs.’

Things began to change, and soon Ahmad found his pay and working conditions had plummeted. Working 14 hours, seven days a week, his pay rapidly decreased…

...Ahmad says, order sizes increased and weight monitoring stopped. On a typical day, he was finding himself doing between 20 to 30 deliveries, with each delivery between 30 to 40 kilograms...

Anger at their conditions moved Ahmad, and another driver, Bruno Sterling, to join the IWGB trade union…Together with the union, drivers like Ahmad and Bruno formulated a set of demands for Ocado Zoom... drivers want to be brought in-house on Limb B worker contracts, a designation that would see them classed as self-employed but eligible for employment rights as they depend upon an employer...drivers want a return to £16 per hour, with costs covered, and a guarantee of bonuses during busy periods...

Ocado’s response has not been to engage with the IWGB or the workers directly…Instead..., a blog post on Ocado’s site had expressed ‘deep concern’ at the ‘allegations’ reported in The Observer recently.

Ocado claimed that ‘Ryde...have confirmed no drivers delivering for Ocado Zoom are being paid below minimum wage.’…

Then...Ocado announced—via a poster at the depot—that…they will no longer be using third party courier companies. Instead, the poster advertises that Ocado will be recruiting Zoom drivers via employment agency ‘Job and Talent’. Pay will be £10.85 an hour...a decrease from the initial pay rates under Stuart.

According to a recent email sent from IWGB to the Ocado board, another poster also states that, once drivers are signed up to the agency, they will be directly employed ‘after one week’. IWGB points out that this wording is unclear, and could mean in-housing doesn’t happen for a longer period.

...In an email to Tribune, Ocado...restates that Ocado Zoom drivers are now being offered in-house contracts, not positions dependent on agencies or third parties.

The workers see the situation as a case of fire and rehire and, IWGB argues, the move from courier company to employment agency constitutes an unofficial TUPE transfer...

In response to a request for comment, Ocado directed Tribune to a blog post which states the following:

Today over half of orders delivered by Ocado Zoom are made by directly employed drivers, with the rest fulfilled by third party delivery partners.

Today we’ve announced that we’re moving into the final stages of recruiting our Ocado Zoom Acton delivery team and ending our current third party supplier arrangements. As part of this process, all drivers currently working for our third party suppliers are being offered the opportunity to work directly for Ocado.

The full blog post can be read here.