A recruitment agency engaged food couriers with an attractive employment contract, only to make them sign a second contract with much less favourable conditions when they arrived in Malta.

And when the workers resigned because they could not take it anymore, the company informed them they had to pay €4,000 for quitting.

Times of Malta has seen documentation showing that former food couriers who were employed by one of Malta’s biggest agencies, RecruitGiant, were made to sign a contract of employment in their home country and then made to sign a second, different contract after they arrived in Malta.

At least a dozen former couriers told Times of Malta they had already forked out over €8,000 each in fees, con­tract and visa processing, flights, insurances and medical tests to be able to settle in Malta, banking their future on a very promising contract they signed in their home country.

After they signed the second contract, believing it was identical to the first one, they soon realised that the working conditions were nothing like they were promised.

After two or three months, the situation turned so dire that they decided to resign, prompting RecruitGiant’s lawyers to chase them for an additional €4,000 for ‘breach of contract’.

It was then that they discovered that the second contract they were made to sign was what they called a legal trap.

What the contracts said

The first contract promised employment on an indefinite basis with a six-month probation, a gross monthly salary of €1,000+ and up to 40 hours of work over a five-day week.

Seeing these conditions, the young men decided it was worth uprooting their lives in India or Nepal and taking the risk to relocate to Malta to earn a decent living and be able to send financial help to their families back home.

It was with that contract that they went to Identity Malta’s offices when they landed in Malta to acquired a work permit. But when they presented the permit to their employer, they were asked to sign a second contract.

“We were told that the new contract contained the same conditions as the old one and we all signed it,” one former courier said.

“There was a sense of hastiness to sign the second contract,” another ex-courier said. “We were told to sign it quickly because someone in administration needed it as soon as possible.”

The second contract was, in fact, very different to the first one.

Most significantly, it was not an indefinite contract. It was a one-year definite contract with only one month probation. And it demanded a minimum of 40 hours per week with a gross annual salary of almost €10,000.

Whereas the salary in the first contract was based on 40 hours of work as per Maltese law, the second stipulated that ‘hours of work’ is limited to the hours during which the courier drives from his current location to the restaurant, until the moment the order is delivered to the customer. The courier would not be paid for the idle time they spent waiting outside restaurants between deliveries.

The couriers signed the contract, not realising they were, in fact, agreeing to very different terms and conditions. But even if they had read the modified contract and protested against the new conditions, there was little they could do, because Identity Malta issues work permits binding third country nationals to work for the agency that recruited them. They could not just leave, because without a job they would not have permission to stay in the country.

Also, they had already spent over €8,000 to come to Malta and could not simply pack their bags and go back.

The top two clauses show the original contract signed, the bottom two show the revised one.The top two clauses show the original contract signed, the bottom two show the revised one.

'Crushed dream'

They had to accept the conditions and hope the promised €1,000 monthly salary would help them cut their debts. But even that dream was crushed.

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.

Recruitment agencies employ thousands of food couriers to have enough of them scattered around the islands so that Bolt and Wolt can offer the shortest delivery times possible from any restaurant to any location.

Additionally, as per the second contract, the agency is not burdened with paying every driver for every hour they work. Despite promising a gross annual salary of around €10,000 for a 40-hour work week, the contract specifies that hours of work only count when the courier is carrying out deliveries. For the rest of the time they spend waiting between deliveries, they are not paid. With the number of couriers on the roads, it was virtually impossible for workers to clock 40 hours of deliveries per week.

Meanwhile, the agency only needs to pay for the number of deliveries, which remains the same, no matter how many drivers there are.

It is therefore able to employ hundreds of drivers more than the market needs, because its only added expenses will be the motorcycle and equipment it provides to the couriers.

This means Bolt and Wolt are able to offer a much more competitive service while the agency earns recruitment fees from hundreds of Indian workers, while paying them per delivery, not per hour, and still pocketing at least half of each delivery fee.

There are also too many couriers employed for the number of daily deliveries. Consequently, on weekdays a courier gets to deliver just 10 to 12 orders a day and on Saturdays he may do up to 20, if he is lucky.

The courier spends the rest of the time waiting outside restaurants for hours on end, hoping to hear an order chime on his phone. It does not matter how many hours he spends idle.

When they started working, the couriers soon realised they would have to work exorbitant hours to manage even half of the promised monthly salary.

‘€600 a month after 11 hours daily Monday to Sunday’

Four couriers told Times of Malta that after working 11 hours daily from Monday to Sunday for a month, they only managed to earn around €600.

The couriers would be paid in cash or via Revolut. Documents seen by Times of Malta show that while monthly payslips were issued with a salary corresponding to the figures in the contract, the cash sent or given to the courier was way less.

“When, at the end of the month, I saw that my salary didn’t match the figure in my contract, I asked the company why and they told me the winter months are a low season and that the salary would surely get better as summer starts to approach,” one former courier said.

The couriers said after a couple of months they could not take it anymore and quit, only to receive a letter from RecruitGiant’s lawyers telling them they owe the company €4,000 for breach of contract.

The lawyers told them that since they resigned after the probation period of one month was over and before the contract had expired, they were bound by law to pay the employer half the year’s agreed salary. They were told to pay up within two weeks and if they failed to do so, the company would take legal procedures against them.

“It felt like my life had ended,” one of the couriers recalled.

‘Struggling to live, pay back debts’

“I barely had money to live and pay rent and I was already struggling to pay back my enormous debts, and then they told me I owed them all that money. It was horrible.”

Some couriers filed police reports over the incidents but have not heard back yet. Other couriers claimed this practice is used by other recruitment agencies.

Questions sent to RecruitGiant on Friday are yet to be answered, despite a reminder yesterday morning.

However, last April, RecruitGiant CEO Tomas Mikalauskas had complained with Times of Malta that the recruitment sector is heavily unregulated and lacks enforcement.

He said that after the Department for Industrial and Employment Relations issued recommendations for recruitment agencies last year, his company tried getting in line with the law but workers were quitting because they preferred to work in unregulated conditions and he was losing drivers quicker than he could recover them.

Mikalauskas had said that it had become impossible to employ a courier legally but that he would refuse to stop following the law, and he had called on the authorities to strengthen enforcement.

The questions to RecruitGiant

•  Why were the workers made to sign a second contract if they had already signed a contract of employment? And why were they not informed about the change in terms and conditions?

•  Why would you change the terms and conditions, knowing they made a decision to relocate their whole life based on a contract that promised them better conditions?

•   Did you expect them to refuse to sign the second contract if they had issues with it, after they had relocated to a foreign country?

•   Also, why were they never paid the salary they were promised in the contracts?

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