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MALTATODAY 21 August 2022

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8 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 21 AUGUST 2022 NICOLE MEILAK AFTER starting independent operations in Malta this year, the platform-work giant Bolt – famed for its on-demand taxi service and food courier provid- er – made several appointments to its on-the-ground leadership as it scaled up its expansion into Malta. One of these was country man- ager Kamran Samadli, who from his top position can see before his eyes the controversy that certain aspects of the Bolt mod- el has generated on the island. Chiefly, rightful compensation to food couriers was finally cast in the harsh spotlight after Bolt couriers went on strike, amid claims that up to half of their earnings go to employment agencies – the middlemen re- cruiting so-called 'third coun- try nationals' from Asia – while the food delivery platform itself kept lowering delivery rates. MaltaToday sat down with Samadli to understand the com- pany's platform work model, how it prices its bonuses for couriers, and how Bolt Food's role in the market will change in the years to come. Platform work It is no surprise that the over- arching theme to Bolt Food's operations is the crude force of demand and supply, with Bolt Food serving as a digital mar- ketplace to bring vendors and customers together. "In gener- al, Bolt Food and other delivery companies are just marketplaces where three sides meet," Samad- li says. "The restaurants will sell their goods, there are delivery partners who deliver this food, and there are the customers, who represent 'demand'." But he argues that – and this is the fundamental attraction of the mobile app that represents the platform genesis – Bolt Food's goal is ultimately to in- centivise demand or supply in the marketplace as needed. That is, crucial to the model that Bolt has harnessed, is making con- sumers want more food delivery service. "It can come in the form of specific demand subsidies, or supply campaigns in the market. At the core of it really, it's just supply and demand." Yet food delivery couriers tend to get the short end of the stick in this model, unions and social activists will argue. Their live- lihoods rely solely on what the market forces provide – and Samadli is well aware of this. "In specific hours of the day there is so much demand that couriers can earn, I don't know, like three times more than what they can earn during normal times. Some other times, for example when it's the low season in the market, earnings go down." But this is the philosophy of Bolt Food: the free market is the most efficient system, and it should be allowed to take its course. The company's only job is to incentivise demand or sup- ply when necessary. "It's an open platform. They can come in and go out whenever anyone wants. We don't exercise any control whatsoever over our partners. They can work for multiple plat- forms, they can join us for a few minutes to multiple hours. We give them maximum opportu- nity to manage their own sched- ules." Recruitment agencies Certain recruitment agencies providing couriers to Bolt Food in Malta are known to take hefty pay cuts from their couriers' weekly wages, who are also sub- jected to weekly pay targets of around €500 to €600 a week – a mission that involves taking up as many delivery jobs as possi- ble, with scant regard for occu- pational health or safety. These agencies are separate companies, with their own set of rules, and it is not up to Bolt Food to impose any require- ments on them. The compa- ny's only requirement for these agencies is that they must com- ply with the relevant local laws. Bolt reviews each employment agency at the start of their busi- ness relationship, assessing em- ployment contracts and other documentation to make sure that the agency is compliant with local employment laws and regulations. Samadli says there have been situations in the past where the behaviour of some fleet com- panies had been detrimental to its couriers. In such case, Bolt Food listens to the affected couriers to find a solution. "If it doesn't work, we decide to part our ways." In general, Samadli says Bolt Food does not endorse situa- tions where couriers work for them through such agencies. But he resigns himself by say- ing it is up to the companies to operate as they please, so long as it doesn't harm the wider food delivery ecosystem. "At the end of the day, we cannot real- ly go to agencies and tell them to charge couriers one amount instead of another, but if we see that it hurts their employees and our general ecosystem, we start to provide suggestions." But it is this model of deregu- lation that underpins the profit of digital platform providers. Bolt does not recruit the food couriers, which allows the de- velopment of its product – the creation of demand, the market- ing of food delivery – separate if not totally apart from the well- being of workers, who fall under the responsibility of unrelated companies. Samadli says the suggestions Bolt Food could tender to the recruiters might amount to questions of efficiency: "For example, if an agency contin- ues doing this behaviour, such as charging this amount or this percentage, you will not have any couriers left because they'll just go to another agency," he says, showing that ultimately it is couriers who negotiate their destiny, individually. In more radical cases, Sama- dli says the company has been ready to cut off business oper- ations with certain agencies. "It rarely happens. Everyone wants to continue their business. Most of the time we come to an align- ment." The algorithm The Bolt Food app works by matching delivery couriers clos- est to the restaurant receiving orders. No great algorithms at work – just a geographi- cal matching that also defines In his first interview to the press, Bolt Food's country manager Kamran Samadli discusses courier woes, platform work, and its role in the market for the coming years Fast food and low pay? It's all demand and supply for Bolt Kamran Samadli (right), Bolt country manager for Malta

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