Updated 6pm with PN reaction
An investigation into food couriers found that the employment conditions of delivery drivers are irregular and unlawful but solving the problem is far more complex than simply getting in line with the law.
One recruitment agency tried it recently, only to see half of its drivers quit within a month.
The investigation into the food delivery business, carried out by the Department for Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) last year, found that food couriers were not getting enough time to rest and that their employers were deducting money from their first salary to pay for their attire and work equipment.
The probe also found that the drivers’ employment contracts were “not in line with the Employment and Industrial Relations Act”.
It also revealed that statutory bonuses and COLA are not always paid, overtime, sick leave and vacation leave are not covered, work carried out on public holidays is compensated at a flat rate and that the proof of payment does not correspond to the payslips.
Despite sporting the typical, distinguishing Bolt and Wolt jackets and backpacks, most delivery drivers are not employed directly by either of the two food delivery platforms.
Most third country nationals are employed by an agency which is sub-contracted by the two large platforms, meaning the driver is paid by his agency, which is paid by Bolt and Wolt.
The DIER spent months interviewing representatives from Bolt and Wolt, recruitment agencies and the drivers themselves, analysed salary documentation and work conditions and drew a set of recommendations which it presented to all recruitment agencies last May and urged them to adopt.
It said it wanted to “ensure that the platform economy is legally sustainable for both the companies involved and the food couriers alike”.
It is unclear if agencies pay drivers per delivery or per hour and whether drivers are paid for the idle time they spend outside restaurants, waiting for a delivery order to chime in.
Since Maltese law calculates work in hours, and not in tasks, the department established that each driver performs 2.2 deliveries per hour and that a full-time driver must receive a basic salary of €800 gross per month, plus payment of statutory bonuses, weekly allowances, vacation leave, sick leave and COLA as adjusted every year, none of which were being paid.
The department also recommended guidelines as to how overtime should be paid and told the agencies they should cover the drivers’ phone bills, fuel, an allowance for wear and tear each month, insurance expenses and road licence when they use their personal bike.
The CEO of RecruitGiant, Tomas Mikalauskas, adopted the recommendations last month and half of his drivers have since quit to work for other agencies who still work irregularly but are able to give the drivers more cash in their hands each month.
“I used to employ 200 delivery drivers. Then, 40 quit within the first two days after I took on the new regulations and, so far, I’ve lost half of my drivers,” he said.
“I’m trying to replace them with new recruits but I’m bleeding employees faster than I can recover them. It costs us around a €1,000 for each driver to get them permits to work here and the process with the embassy takes from four to six months.”
I used to employ 200 delivery drivers. Then, 40 quit within the first two days after I took on the new regulations- Employer
Mikalauskas said there are around 40 agencies that employ food delivery drivers, so the couriers found another job almost immediately after they quit his agency.
He said other agencies declare a minimum wage on the payslip, thereby having to pay just a small amount in NI and no income tax at all and then give the drivers the rest of their salary in cash.
And the drivers are fine with this arrangement because they end up sending more money to their families abroad at the end of the month.
Mikalauskas argues that, by not enforcing the recommendations on all recruitment agencies, the authorities are allowing the market to become a jungle where the only way to survive is to break the law, evade tax and treat employees unfairly.
“What’s even worse is that, while I’m suffering consequences for choosing to follow the law, I’m losing employees to agencies that operate irregularly,” he contended.
“And Bolt and Wolt are facilitating this black market because they offer their app services to whichever agency asks for it, without checking whether they are abiding by the law.
“I refuse to stop following the recommendations. I know this is the right thing to do and the authorities should enforce the new regulations on all of us. That is the only way to create a fair, level playing field.
“By refusing to enforce the law, they are only inviting all of us to break it because that is the only way to survive right now.”
The Lithuanian businessman has been operating in Malta for four years and recruits drivers, plumbers, electricians and waiters, among others.
He says that he always gives first preference to Maltese applications but he rarely gets any, saying the Maltese people do not want to do these job , and that is why he turns to third country nationals.
Mikalauskas says delivery drivers from India and Nepal speak English, drive on the left side of the road in their country and are used to riding scooters.
“So, it’s relatively easy for them to adapt to the job here,” he added.
“On the first day of the job, I give them a scooter, clothes, equipment and a helmet and it doesn’t come out of their salary. I also cover their fuel costs and mobile phone bills.
“But not all agencies do that.”
PN urges strengthening of regulations
The PN urged for the strengthening of the framework regulating the so-called gig and platform economies to ensure the safeguarding of employees.
In a statement, it also flagged concern over how employers within these industries, including those providing courier services, were reporting an unequal playing field.