Foreign food delivery drivers stage rare strike in Dubai

3 minute read

A food delivery worker rides a motorbike to deliver meal orders, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Abdel Hadi Ramahi

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May 9 (Reuters) - Foreign food-delivery workers in the United Arab Emirates staged a mass walk-out on Monday, calling for better pay and working conditions in a rare act of industrial action in the Gulf state.

The strike comes after foreign workers this month forced another food delivery company to suspend plans to cut their earnings after walking off the job in protest against the move.

In the latest stoppage, drivers for Talabat, the Middle East unit of Germany's Delivery Hero (DHER.DE), on Monday evening disrupted services as they refused deliveries in Dubai, the country's financial centre and a regional trade and tourism hub.

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A group of Talabat drivers told Reuters in the early hours of Tuesday morning outside a Dubai restaurant that they had been encouraged to walk out in protest of low pay and working conditions by the success of the Deliveroo strike this month.

The strike, which massively disrupted Deliveroo services over a weekend, saw the British food delivery company meet driver demands to not proceed with plans to reduce earnings.

The walkouts have drawn new scrutiny to the treatment of low paid foreign workers in the UAE where human rights groups and activists say are vulnerable to exploitation and abuses.

Authorities in the UAE, an oil-rich Gulf autocracy where independent trade unions, public protests and industrial actions are criminalised, did not respond to a request for comment.

Talabat drivers said they were calling for an equivalent of a $0.54 increase in payments to $2.59 per order to help with high fuel costs which are are up more than 30% this year in the UAE.

"If Deliveroo gives this price .. why are we not getting?," a Pakistani Talabat driver told Reuters, requesting anonymity over fears of reprisals from the company and authorities.

Deliveroo drivers in Dubai earn about $2.79 per delivery.

A Talabat spokesperson said until last week 70% of drivers had expressed satisfaction with the pay structure, which saw them on average earn 3,500 dirhams - or $953 - a month.

The spokesperson, who did not disclose how many hours drivers worked each month, said there had been no recent changes in pay.

Talabat drivers, however, said after paying for petrol they were now earning 2,500 dirhams a month working 12 - 14 hours a day, seven days a week, while still needing to cover living costs.

The drivers warned the work stoppage could continue until the Talabat committed to the pay increase, though some were wary of falling afoul of the authorities if action lasted too long.

A Delivery Hero spokesperson said the company was aware of the strike and was in close contact with Talabat and was in constant dialogue with drivers to improve benefits and conditions.

"The local team in the United Arab Emirates is making it their priority to find a joint solution," the spokesperson said.

Many delivery drivers in the UAE, including those working for Talabat whom Reuters spoke to, say they are employed by agencies who illegally charge them for their working permits.

Talabat said it was investigating the claims.

(This story was refiled to remove extraneous text in paragraph 9.)

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Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by David Gregorio, Sandra Maler, Bradley Perrett and Louise Heavens

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