Delivery riders say promotions are being used by delivery platforms like Uber Eats and Deliveroo to manage worker shortfalls during lockdowns in New South Wales and Victoria.
Promotions and ‘quests’ are used by delivery platforms globally, along with features like surge payments, as tools to incentivise worker behaviour.
Riders and drivers based in Sydney and Melbourne told Business Insider Australia that these tools have pushed them to work much more than they would have otherwise during the most recent period of lockdowns.
Incentives used as ‘a weapon’
Almost all of the major food delivery companies use incentives globally as a means of influencing worker behaviour. This includes short-term promotions by companies like Deliveroo and Uber that reward riders for completing a certain number of trips within a defined timeframe.
Food delivery riders and drivers explained to Business Insider Australia how the major delivery companies in Australia use these tools in the local market, deploying incentives ranging from surge pay to bonuses.
While this is a common practice, in recent months, amid a squeeze on the local workforce, they said the tool was one of the ways companies kept them riding further – and for longer.
Tilak Parajuli, a driver based in Melbourne, told Business Insider Australia via message that promotions, called ‘quests’ on Uber Eats, are an incentive to ensure workers stay on its platform.
“When a driver suddenly stops delivery for a week or more, Uber [uses] quests as a weapon to get [the] driver back to work,” Parajuli said.
One recent promotion called for drivers to complete 50 deliveries within three days in a specific location in order to receive a $50 bonus.
A report by The New York Times outlined how platforms in the gig economy use incentives and tasks pioneered in mobile games to push workers to continue working when they otherwise might stop. Financial bonuses are the most common reward.
Not all are against the strategy. Scott Brown, a Melbourne delivery driver for Menulog, told Business Insider Australia incentives were a welcome pay bump.
“They have encouraged me this week by saying, ‘[Make] eight deliveries and get a bonus $20,’” he said. “Each delivery is about $10. It’s actually pretty good.”
Promotions force workers to take trips they normally wouldn’t
In many instances, workers say the incentives are the only thing that get them to complete trips that otherwise aren’t worth the money.
A motorcycle rider who works for Uber Eats and Deliveroo in Sydney’s inner city said promotions are like “a honey trap” for riders, used as a distraction from the increasingly low rates paid by Uber in particular. “They [get] you used to it, but they pay less,” he said.
The rider, who declined to share his name, said he completes ‘quests’ because “something is better than nothing”.
Rokibul, an engineering student from Bangladesh, said promotions push riders to want to work more.
“If you don’t have any orders, and you have 20 deliveries left [to do] in one day… you have to do this,” he said. “If you don’t complete the job, you don’t get [the bonus]. So you push yourself.”
Tamim, an accounting student also from Bangladesh, has been working in delivery for about three months. He started after he lost his job during the most recent lockdowns, and works for Uber and DoorDash.
He said he prefers working for Uber because it has the best platform and the most work, but said it is “behind on the money”.
Tamim said he thinks promotions are worth the extra effort, especially because he is fast and rarely fails to complete a challenge. But he also said it pushed him to take trips he otherwise wouldn’t.
“Mostly I think it’s because some deliveries are really far away, so people tend not to go there. They don’t want to do it,” he said. “But if they have a quest, they do it just because of the quest.”
“It’s like, ‘Oh, I have to fill up the quest so I’ve got to do it.’”
Payment for quests depends on the available promotion that week. This week’s quest is worth $300 for completing 100 trips. “It’s good… but on the weekdays, it’s not that busy so it will be hard to do.” He said you would have to be a particularly fast rider to be able to achieve it.
Tamim said the rate Uber Eats pays isn’t fair and that he believes it should pay more. “The other apps pay better than Uber,” he said, though it consistently has the most work.
Platforms say workers ‘have a choice’ to accept promotions
An Uber spokesperson told Business Insider Australia it uses promotions to help riders earn more, but would not comment on the impact promotions might have had during lockdowns.
“From time to time, we offer incentive opportunities which delivery partners may choose to take up to maximise their earning potential, while maintaining their flexibility to deliver when they want,” the spokesperson said.
“Promotions are always optional.”
Deliveroo said it uses promotions to manage demand during busy periods.
A Deliveroo spokesperson told Business Insider Australia, that “in addition to the delivery fees offered for a particular order, we provide earnings incentives to ensure rider supply can match demand.”
The company said it had experienced an increase in order volumes as well as a shortage of workers during the long lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne this year, but didn’t comment on how it had adjusted its use of promotions.
“There is no doubt that the changing economy and increase in demand had an impact on available riders last year,” the spokesperson said. “However, we quickly managed that shortfall.”
A Menulog spokesperson told Business Insider Australia the company only used additional payments “periodically” and that they were never offered for “faster delivery times”.
Unions slam incentive structure
The Transport Workers Union (TWU), which represents delivery riders, says the incentives are no substitute for proper pay and conditions.
National secretary Michael Kaine said regardless of market conditions, promotions were among the many ways delivery companies coerce workers to engage in dangerous behaviours that have been exacerbated by the demand for delivery services during the pandemic.
“These incentives are not quests, they are callous work directions,” Kaine said.
The TWU has been pushing for reforms to safety laws around the food delivery industry following the deaths of five riders in NSW last year. In June, the NSW government announced a slate of new laws to enforce safety measures for delivery workers.
Recently passed legislation in New York which sets minimum pay and working conditions has placed the city at the forefront of regulation for food delivery companies.
Kaine said the Australian federal government should follow suit with legislation to enforce minimum standards in the industry.
“We know that pressure from these companies to meet delivery deadlines and low pay forces workers to take more risks,” Kaine said.
“These ‘quests’ are an admission from gig companies that they don’t care about worker safety, given how ready they are to encourage workers to rush to top up their low pay.”
Promotion bonuses don’t always reflect the scope of work completed
Shawna Pang, an Uber Eats driver based in Melbourne, told Business Insider Australia via message that she was first offered quests after she completed her first 30 trips a few months ago.
Pang was offered an additional $50 for completing 25 trips and $70 for a further 15 trips after that.
She said the quests appeared beneficial at first but that it’s “not attractive anymore”.
She thinks Uber Eats promotes quests to retain drivers “for the next few days” and ensure they do not switch across to competitors like Deliveroo and Doordash.
“It’s clever because the quests make drivers pick up a low delivery fee. The quests don’t pay much if you compare each delivery trip.”
Ouz, a 26-year-old marketing student from Turkey, works for DoorDash and Deliveroo. He argues that Uber “pushes its workers for much less money than other apps”.
He said Deliveroo’s promotion system, which gives riders a 1.5 to 1.6% boost in earnings during peak delivery times, gives him more overall pay than he would chasing a quest.
“Today it’s just for three hours,” he said, which is “enough” to add up to a day’s worth of earnings.
Riders say a worker shortage has led to an uptick in promotions
Parajuli said he thinks most Uber Eats drivers are international students – “like me” – and that a lot of international students have not been able to re-enter the country this year and last.
“This could be the reason that Uber is trying to push everyone onto the road to fulfil the driver shortage,” he said.
Rokibul agreed it’s possible there might not be enough riders to meet demand in Sydney.
“There’s lots of food at the restaurants,” he said, “but they are not getting the riders to pick it up.”
Alex, a 36-year-old Italian student studying PR and management, has been doing delivery for about three years, mainly for Deliveroo and briefly for Uber Eats. He said he believes delivery platforms are struggling to manage rider shortages right now.
“It looks busier,” he said. “Because so many students left because of the coronavirus situation, there are more deliveries for us [but] there are less of us.”