Police in London have boasted about arresting food delivery riders – lauded as key workers during the coronavirus pandemic – and seizing their bikes.
The Metropolitan Police’s Road and Transport unit tweeted about its operation in Tooting, south London, where it stopped riders from companies like Deliveroo on bikes and motorcycles for an hour and a half to check whether they were committing offences, and conducted immigration checks. It alleged it has received “numerous complaints” about riders in the area.
Police arrested two riders as a result of “immigration offences”, three riders were “reported for offences” and two riders had bikes “seized” for not having any insurance.
Food delivery workers have been recognised as critical workers under UK coronavirus regulations, enabling them to continue working while others have been encouraged to work from home.
Many criticised the operation on Twitter, asking whether using officers to stop key workers was the best use of police resources.
Campaigners said that the stops were part of the government’s “Hostile Environment” policy – a set of measures designed to discourage immigration.
Minnie Rahman, campaigns director for the Joint Committee for the Welfare of Immigrants said: “During the pandemic we saw the public and government applaud our key workers, many of whom are migrants. So it’s shocking that the Home Office is now targeting these very same people. We should be rewarding these workers, but instead the government’s Hostile Environment has barred many from the public safety net, plunged migrant families into poverty, and forced people into unsafe and exploitative jobs.
“The government is trying to turn people against their neighbours and sow division within communities,” Rahman continued, “instead of encouraging us to support each other. It’s clear that there is no place for the Hostile Environment in a caring society, and it needs to be scrapped.”
Kevin Blowe, campaigns coordinator for Network for Police Monitoring (Netpol) said: “Stop and search powers disproportionately target people from racialised communities and in this instance, the presence of immigration enforcement officers makes it hard to believe this operation was really responding to complaints about delivery riders. It looks far more like an immigration raid dressed up as a traffic stop.
“Inevitably,” he said, “the vast majority of Deliveroo riders, 85 percent of those stopped, were guilty of nothing but being some of the lowest-paid, least supported and most abused workers in the capital.”
Alex Marshall, IWGB president and former gig economy courier, said: “The raid on migrant riders in Tooting is as deplorable as it is unsurprising. These key workers have kept the country going during the pandemic, delivering vital supplies to some of the most vulnerable members of society, whilst enduring poverty pay. As a thank you, they continue to be exploited by the likes of Deliveroo and Uber Eats and are targeted through racial profiling by the police.”
Riders for companies like Deliveroo and UberEats often earn less than minimum wage, according to an investigation by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ). Alongside poor pay, they encounter high costs of buying and maintaining vehicles, motorcycles or bikes in order to deliver the food. Deliveroo, which was at the centre of TBIJ’s investigation, saw share prices affected by the revelations after it recently went public on the London stock market.
A spokesperson for Deliveroo said: “Deliveroo takes the conduct of riders extremely seriously and has clear policies in place to ensure riders abide by their contractual agreement. Before working with Deliveroo, riders have to provide proof of their identity and right to work in the UK."
VICE World News reached out to the Metropolitan Police for comment.