It’s Thursday 26th March and it’s t-shirt weather. Yesterday I took a day off and in the morning went to visit E to do her grocery shopping. It’s written like the cake recipes I used to follow with my mum when I was small: 4oz cheese, half a dozen eggs.. I rack my brains trying to think about what an ounce is and I remember my mum swapping the oz weights for 25g weights on the kitchen scales. I get most things, except the shops are all out of Ovaltine. They weren’t talking about that on the news, I knew there’d been a run on toilet paper, but I hadn’t heard about the panic hoarding of malty hot drinks. The mutual support network has been set up by Acorn, the community union that started in Bristol but has since extended across the country. Anyone can volunteer to help out those self-isolating or missing their usual support networks, the link’s here. Tuesdays and Wednesdays I don’t usually do Deliveroo as they’re quiet and I need to rest my legs. Today I hope for a busier day as it’s Thursday and people are usually getting into weekend mode, which means spending money mode. But what do the days mean anyway now we’re in lockdown? I was chatting to a rider outside Five Guys on Monday, and he said it’s busy for a Monday. I said, yeah but what does Monday mean any more? He said, yeah, I guess every day’s like the weekend now. Then we looked at each other, and were momentarily confused as to whether every day’s the weekend, or every day’s a Monday, or that the concept of time has lost all sense of meaning and the days and hours have no discernible shape and blend into a horrible mass of hopeless motion hurtling (or slowly delivering, who can say) humanity into its impending demise. Either way, it was still busy for a Monday, whereas Thursday was in fact quiet, a sign if ever I needed one that everything is not right with the world.
Deliveroo is still struggling to get its messaging right. An alert pops up on our app reading ‘Stand at least 2m away from others at all times. Failure to do so may result in your Supplier Agreement being terminated.’ What can you expect from an algorithm in a pandemic except threats, a ‘flexible’ interpretation of labour laws, and a scant regard for our own safety when we’re having to choose between putting ourselves in danger, or staying at home and not getting paid (I for one am not eligible for the government’s recent bailout for self-employed as around half of my earnings come from Deliveroo and half from the uni, and I’m sure I’m not alone). I order hand sanitiser on ebay for £10 and get a cheap knock-off version. Deliveroo says they’ll reimburse me but I’ve heard nothing back so far.
When I look this morning they’ve changed it to ‘Help protect everyone’s health. Stand 2m away from people at all times’. Algorithmic emotion and empathy settings have been recalibrated and the spreadsheet (that’s how algorithms work right?) overlord has hit upon PRIORITY: public health, over threatening us, which happens to be more appropriate in a public health crisis. While I was napping yesterday afternoon Deliveroo left me a message on my voicemail, ‘hi this is Angelina from Deliveroo, we just wanted to check in on you and we’ll call again later.’ This morning I called the Rider Support number and asked what they wanted. ‘Do you have a live order?’ she asks? No, you called me and left a voice message, I’m just returning the call, is there a problem? ‘Umm, if you don’t have a live order I’m afraid I can’t help you, you can go to the Deliveroo website to find out more information.’ But you called me, do you know why? ‘No’. Ok. It reminds me of the few dealings I’ve had with Deliveroo when there are problems with the app. Once I was cycling down Stapleton Road and my app kept logging me out so I couldn’t receive orders. I force stopped the app, restarted my phone, same problem. I call rider support and tell them the problem. Have you tried restarting the app? Yes, but it’s still happening. Have you restarted your phone? Yes. ‘I’m afraid we don’t have any control over the app, I would recommend you go to the website’. I feel bad for the call centre staff in the Philippines, probably on a measly hourly wage having to deal with disgruntled rag-tag courier types frustrated at the glitchy app eating into their piece rate. The Philippines was recently affected by corona-virus shutdowns and we received a message saying we wouldn’t be able to get through to rider support for a day as they rearranged their working practices. For the first time I imagined the person at the of the line as a commuter riding the subway in Manila, with a name, a life and a country. Deliveroo customer service call centres are apparently in Madagascar. How can it involve someone in the Philippines, someone else in Madagascar, a bunch of millionaire tech-wankers in London, some Spanish and Italian fast food workers and one impatient cyclist to deliver a burger to a stoner on his sofa in Montpelier?
I try to resist the corona-anxiety when my mind reaches towards all those who are living with no social safety net, no public health care system and no ability of self-isolation. For as much as we might complain of boredom, being in a house with netflix for a few weeks is a privilege most of the world can’t afford. i try and focus on a few achievable goals. If you’re not careful you might get lost in the corona-hole. At least I can get cheese for E when I remember what an ounce is. When they’re not sending out passive-aggressive, threatening or faux-caring messages, Deliveroo is still refusing to pay sick pay to anyone regardless of whether they’ve got the virus or not, even though they announced a ‘hardship fund’ (what most normal employers call payroll) to pay our sick pay if we get the coronavirus. Read about one rider’s attempts to draw on this fund that was refused by Deliveroo because of its stringent requirements. On the union chat I’ve seen messages from Deliveroo to workers saying ‘sorry, you are not entitled to payments from our hardship fund as you have not completed enough orders in the past 14 days.’ What is the magic number of orders? Not sure. Was it agreed with the union, or is it an entirely arbitrary figure plucked from the air by those tech-wankers who’ve never completed an order in their predatory exploitative lives? £8.3 million was paid out in stock options to founding director Will Shu despite Deliveroo making a loss last year. I wonder how it is that £20 million can be extracted from a loss-making firm while paying pennies to the call centre staff in the Philippines to tell us they don’t know anything about our apps and can’t help us, and barely UK minimum wage in good times to us. We might not be the ‘new emergency services’, but as this article points out, it’s taken a public health crisis to realise that not providing basic logistical workers with any sick pay might not be the greatest idea capitalism came up with. Amazon workers are organising to claim fair benefits in the midst of this, as the bosses of Amazon, Uber, Deliveroo and the last solitary desperate corporate vulture (Sports Direct?) scrambles to lobby governments that their business be deemed ‘essential’ to stay open for the sake of the share prices (I mean, the good of society?) while at the same time exposing their underpaid workers to excess risk with little if any protection and no sick pay. And by workers of course I mean ‘independent contractors‘ or ‘delivery partners’.
Anyway, back to Thursday, whatever that means. ‘I’m going to set up a drum ‘n’ bass dating service’, I overhear one of the crusty riders who’s been around for years chatting with an off duty rider overlooking the waterfront. ‘Hey lady, got any orders?’ Not yet, I reply. ‘I’ve done 4 today, 2 this morning and 2 just now. I’ve been paid £2 an hour today.’ We commiserate. ‘My ex-girlfriend told me she like drum n bass and that she was a virgin, but she was lying about both.’ More commiserations are in order as I decide to head off to go to Wapping Wharf and it pays off with an order from the Athenian to Windmill Hill. As I’m cycling up through Victoria Park a woman is walking down the hill and she looks at me and immediately covers her mouth with her scarf. Mate, I’ve got my hands and mouth covered too, and if you don’t like the look of me, stay away, you can see me coming. I try and keep away from everyone but I didn’t know how much I’d miss social contact. Maybe in a few weeks time I’ll be able to hug someone. Meanwhile I pick up a bag of booze from an off license and take it to a fancy part of town up a big hill. I get to the right number house on the end of a terrace and ring the guy who says ‘number X, black door right?’ Yeah, I’m outside, I’ll leave it on the floor when I see you. He doesn’t come out. I ring him back and then hear his voice a few doors down. ‘Oh yeah, we’re at Xd, it’s a really big house.’ I get the booze to him without getting too close and look again at the houses. Excuse me but that is not one house, that’s clearly what everyone else in this city calls four terraced houses. Next it’s a curry to slavetrader-Mews in an even fancier area and the woman is exceptionally nice and gives a generous tip. In fact, tonight is good for tips, which almost makes up for the suspension of our entire social and cultural life as we know it. I’m on Jacob Well’s Road as the 8 o clock cheer goes out for the carers/NHS staff and it stands out as one of the day’s positive moments. We will prevail over the corporate vultures. As I’m waiting for more curry on the triangle a guy comes over (at a safe distance) to ask me how work is. He’s a delivery driver for the kebab shop opposite and they’re being kept open just to keep them in work. He seems pretty chipper about that, and warns me not to stay out too late as the streets are taken over at a certain hour by roaming crackheads. ‘Just you wait til the drugs run out, then we’re in for it!’ he cackles and runs back over for his next order.
Volunteer with Acorn: