Lose pay or face danger: Dilemma for couriers as extreme weather bites

1 March 2018, 15:07

Gig economy workers are risking their safety in dangerous conditions because they fear losing a day's wages as snow and ice grip the UK.

Bicycle couriers working in London told Sky News they must choose between missing pay or working in blizzard conditions.

Jamie Ramstein said cycling through snowy days in his job as a medical courier was "non-stop risk" and sometimes "really dangerous".

The 31-year-old added: "I had a taxi nearly knock me off my bike and an ambulance rush past me. My bike parts started to freeze... My vision was reduced by about 75%.

"On my way home I just started crying. It was so much emotion and relief."

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Mr Ramstein said he loves his job, which he has had for four years, and that despite the tough conditions his day riding in the snow was enjoyable.

The fact he would miss his day's pay of £100 if he did not cycle was his main reason for venturing out.

"I basically can't afford to take a day off at the moment," he explained.

Most cycle couriers in London are paid a rate per job or per day - an arrangement that means they are able to decline or accept work, and be flexible in choosing the hours they are on the road.

Many say this means more freedom for workers, allowing them to be their own boss and work for a range of different businesses. Others praise companies such as Deliveroo or Uber for creating jobs that otherwise would not exist.

However, recent reports and lawsuits have highlighted the lack of benefits for workers who are not officially classed as employees - including sick pay.

Megan Brown, a courier for Deliveroo and a representative for the IWGB union, said the lack of protection forces workers to make tough decisions between safety and money.

"It's a case of assessing, on the day, how brave I'm feeling," the 25-year-old told Sky News. "I want to work, if only to stop my worries about money. But I have to look after my safety."

She says she earns around £8.30 an hour, adding: "It's a pretty poor wage to be making these kind of decisions."

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Deliveroo told Sky News that rider safety was a priority, and said in adverse conditions riders were offered bonus payments and given shorter distances to ride.

When a red Met Office warning is in place - the highest level - the service stops operating.

“Riders are at no point obliged to ride with us and can at any time reject an order if they wish. Deliveroo wrote to affected riders yesterday to remind them of this and to urge them to stay safe," a spokesperson said.

"Deliveroo will continue to monitor the weather conditions, act wherever necessary and remain in close contact with riders.”

Mr Ramstein told Sky News he would be on his bike again on Friday, despite the tough conditions.

But Ms Brown said she was unsure, adding that she did not feel looked after at work.

"The concept is we're free and flexible," she said. "But it's not a choice if you have to take a day of unpaid leave when the weather is bad."