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MALTATODAY 31 July 2022

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12 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 31 JULY 2022 NEWS How 500 Bolt couriers went on strike without a union Street patrols and solidarity: with no union and no workplace, couriers took to the streets and used their local communities to spread word of a one-day strike NICOLE MEILAK HUNDREDS of Bolt couriers went on strike last Friday despite having no union, no fixed workplace, and vulnerable working conditions. But how was it pulled off? One courier representative described to MaltaToday the 24 hours of street patrols that helped keep the strike afloat. "The excitement counting down till midnight to lay down our work and take action against such a big platform was immense," they said of the owners of the Bolt booking platform that powers the con- nection between restaurants and online patrons. "We immediately started patrolling busy areas from midnight till 4/5am to spread the word to couriers who weren't aware yet." When news of the strike came out on Thursday morning, re- ports were estimating that around 300 couriers were expected to take part. But when Friday came around, roughly 500 couriers stopped taking deliveries for the day. "In the morning from 8am we were back on the roads strongly, back to patrolling and speaking to our colleagues with active applica- tions," the courier told MaltaTo- day At this stage, couriers are de- manding an increase in their bo- nus payments. Payment per deliv- ery varies depending on the time of the delivery and the distance covered to deliver the food. Couri- ers get paid 40c for each kilometre travelled, while the bonus for car- rying out a delivery ranges from 25c at lunchtime hours, to €1.60 between 7pm and 9pm. For couriers, the problem is that these time bonuses have been on the decline for years. Bolt initially changed their pricing mechanism in November 2020, with an aver- age delivery bonus of 75c. Nowa- days, it can range from 30c to 50c depending on the earnings sched- ule of the day. The problem is exacerbated for third-country nationals working as couriers through recruitment agencies, with 40-50% of their pay going to the agency they work for. Courier organising is a typically difficult feat as there are no fixed locations, like an office, to meet all couriers at once. But most couri- ers, especially third-country na- tionals from Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan, enjoy strong solidarity networks among their local communities in Malta. "Driving around all day and see- ing the effect of this strike, the unity and the excitement in every- one's voices was heart-warming," the spokesperson said. "We have patrolled all night and day to cre- ate awareness. We have received tons of positive feedback from the public, supporting us and cheering us on. We are really grateful for the support received from all, even unexpected, corners." While couriers received lots of positive support from the pub- lic, the recruitment agencies that bring third-country nationals to Malta were not as pleased. Some couriers received threats from their agencies that their Bolt ac- count would be shut down. "The thing that saddened my heart is hearing stories from col- leagues receiving threats and/or blackmail from recruitment agen- cies. Even though they remained with us, I take my hat off to these people for their strength shown." Bolt couriers working through re- cruitment agencies suffer particu- larly harder working conditions compared to their self-employed counterparts. Third-country na- tionals are forced to meet weekly financial targets, roughly €600 per week depending on the agency they work for, or risk having their fuel allowances taken or being is- sued a warning by the company. From the €600 they earn in a week, the recruitment agency keeps 40% to 50% of the pay. This means that some couriers are left with a minimum take-home pay of €300 a week, to be spent on living expenses, loan payments, or remit- tances to their families back home. The strike itself left many res- taurants unable to deliver their orders. "We have seen a massive strain on Bolt Food operations. They could not meet demands and many orders were left waiting for a substantial amount of time." As things stand, Bolt has com- mitted itself to "optimising" the pricing mechanism used to cal- culate the take-home pay of each courier. However, they are yet to communicate any updates to the couriers themselves. "Even though we haven't heard back from Bolt, our fight doesn't stop here." Restaurateurs feel the pain A lobby of restaurateurs has said a strike by over 500 Bolt couriers had affected catering establishments who could not take their business to online clients. Platform-work food couriers hailed Friday's strike a success after sending out warning that they would not back down until their demands for better pay are met. An estimated 500 couriers took part in Friday's strike, organised in protest at their working condi- tions, and after a courier was beaten up in Zabbar while picking up an order from a pizzeria. But the Association of Catering Establishments, which is separate from the larger MHRA lobby, said it had followed "with concern" the Bolt strike. "Although ACE feels that workers have a right to strike, it feels that such actions will ultimately im- pinge on the catering establishments. This is more so given the challenges the industry already faces. "The association will in the coming days raise such concerns with all relevant authorities so such situa- tions will not repeat themselves." ACE used the strike to call on catering establish- ments to join the association "so their rights are properly safeguarded", and insisted that according to its own survey, adequate salaries were being paid in the industry. It said couriers should contact the association so it can assist them in finding jobs with fair and proper pay. NGO Moviment Graffitti said that the conduct of Bolt and the couriers' employment agencies was "tantamount to modern slavery". It said that workers had to give up to 50% of their income from deliveries to the agencies that employ them, whilst Bolt consistently lowered the delivery rates. "Workers are drained by the system where they have to do enough deliveries to reach the tar- gets set by the agencies, whilst getting increasingly meagre pay for every delivery," Moviment Graffitti said. The NGO said that 95% of the couriers partici- pated in the strike, calling it a "clear show of force by the workers". It said that they are determined to continue their actions in the coming weeks. "It is totally shameful that Maltese authorities are allow- ing this abuse, with hundreds of workers savagely exploited for the profits of a few parasites."

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