With Australia still in lockdown, it’s only logical that more and more people are using food delivery services. Here, the four dominant platforms are Uber Eats, Menulog, Deliveroo and DoorDash. All of them offer a similar thing: food collected from a restaurant and brought to your door. But each manages to exploit their employees in slightly different ways.
Delivery drivers and riders are generally employed as independent contractors, aka “delivery partners”, which means they receive no sick pay, superannuation, holiday pay, or other benefits. They also get paid according to a delivery algorithm, rather than an hourly rate—which in some cases allows them to earn more money than casual workers—but mostly just leaves them with less than minimum wage.
So with all the shadiness surrounding food delivery, it’s a good time to ask: which platform should you be using? And moreover, which should you be avoiding? To get an idea, I asked drivers from each platform about their pay conditions and general experience delivering food during a pandemic.
The newest food delivery service in Australia is DoorDash, an American company that launched in Sydney and Melbourne in late 2019. While DoorDash enjoyed some positive press on April 15 after they halved the commission fees for restaurants using their platform, their delivery drivers told me a very different story.
Sophal Yos delivers food in and around Liverpool, in Western Sydney, for a few different platforms. He says DoorDash is the worst platform he’s worked for. Sophal explains that DoorDash drivers use something called a Red Card, which makes the platform unnecessarily complex. With most of the other delivery platforms, the app allows customers to order and pay for the food directly, then drivers simply need to pick up the food and deliver it. But with Red Card, drivers have to contact the restaurant themselves, re-order the food and then pay for it in person with the Red Card. “Red card orders take extra work and time,” Sophal says. “Sometimes there are only a few jobs for the whole day and you don't even earn $40.”
When I ask Sophal to guess how much he makes in an hour with DoorDash, he says it’s difficult to gauge, since he’s often signed into multiple delivery platforms simultaneously. He estimates, however, that DoorDash would earn him about $10 per hour. That’s a little over half the national minimum wage of $19.49.
Malik Allah Yar is a bicycle delivery rider for Uber Eats in Western Sydney. He says he usually earns between $6 and $12 per delivery, depending on the distance, and before coronavirus that could equate to up to $35 an hour. But with an increase of drivers signing up to the app, lately he’s been struggling to make $15 an hour.
Malik is from Pakistan and his student visa only permits him to work 20 hours per week. At the moment, he says he’s lucky to make $300 in that time, which is difficult to live on. Because of Malik’s visa status, he has no access to financial support from Centrelink or any of the government’s new stimulus packages.
Another Uber Eats driver, Joseph, is a 26-year-old from Perth. A few weeks back, he told me that in three hours he made $30 and used $10 of fuel, earning him an estimated $7 per hour. That was his last day before he gave up on the platform and tried his luck at Centrelink instead. A few weeks later, he says he’s not really tempted to go back to Uber Eats because he can’t see himself earning a liveable wage through the platform.
Judging from social media, there’s quite a bit of confusion and uncertainty around the way Menulog remunerates its couriers. In a Facebook group for Menulog delivery workers, I found numerous posts asking about how the payment system works. One driver has posted screenshots of two Menulog delivery payments that each earned him exactly $6.95, except one was 4.8 kilometres away and the other was just 3.1 kilometres away. He’s asking how Menulog came to the conclusion that each trip was worth the same amount. The answer to that question is that Menulog use what they describe as a “confidential algorithm,” and they won’t explain its logic.
This lack of transparency seems to be a rule, rather than an exception, among online food delivery platforms. Another driver, Marnie Collins from Perth, tells me she signed up to the app two weeks ago but hasn’t been approved to be a driver yet. She’s spent hours on the phone with the company but can’t get a straight answer. “I rang them up twice and was on the phone more than an hour,” she says. “Each person I’ve spoken to has said a different thing.”
Sophal, from DoorDash, delivers for Menulog as well, and he says it’s the best platform he’s worked for. Menulog organises their drivers by shifts, so the market isn’t flooded with drivers like it is with Uber Eats. He estimates that he can earn $10 per delivery through Menulog, and on a busy day he can do four deliveries in an hour, which is $40. Once he factors in fuel and wear and tear on the car, however, he says his average rate would be more like $20 an hour, just over minimum wage.
Matt* has been working as a Deliveroo bicycle delivery rider in Canberra for three years—and because he’s studying to be an accountant, he’s kept spreadsheets to record and calculate his earnings. Uniquely, he gets a flat rate of $8.64 per delivery, which was the deal he got when he signed on to the platform (Deliveroo has since switched to a payment algorithm, but some workers like Matt are still on the old flat rate system).
“My long term average over the three years is $23.40 [per hour]. This year it’s been a lot lower—it’s something like $22.60 this year,” says Matt. “In the three years I’ve done Deliveroo, I think I’ve had four or five fortnights where I’ve earned below minimum wage for that fortnight.”
I tell Matt that of all the riders and drivers I’ve spoken to, his earnings sound much higher and more consistent than the others. He explains that working in Canberra is a bit more lucrative than other cities because a lot of the restaurants in the CBD are clustered together. He says during his best fortnight, he made $36 per hour. His worst fortnight was in January 2020, when the bushfires blanketed Canberra in a cloud of smoke, and he made just $9.60 per hour.
“I had one shift once where I logged on for three hours and didn’t get a single job,” he says. “So that was zero, that was my worst ever shift—three hours for no money—but those sort of things have been the exception, not the rule for me.”
I ask Matt about the best and worst parts of working for Deliveroo. He tells me “Deliveroo says the best thing about working for them is the flexibility and as much as I hate them at times, I agree with that… I don’t have a boss, I just choose when I work.”
“The worst is Deliveroo themselves. They have this thing called rider support which is a team that’s meant to help when we have issues. They are just useless. They have no idea what they’re doing. Basically, they make my life harder. I can’t stand dealing with them at the best of times so I just try to avoid them no matter what.”
It’s hard to pick a winner when not a single platform can guarantee their workers a minimum wage. On top of that, each platform's murky payment algorithms make drivers’ actual wages almost impossible to calculate, which is possibly even a deliberate tactic to avoid paying workers a set minimum wage. Delivery drivers are often young people and migrants and their status as independent contractors (rather than employees) means they haven’t got much bargaining power to get themselves a better deal.
All in all, Matt’s experience as a Deliveroo rider in Canberra sounds much better than the rest of the workers I spoke to. And while these numbers are estimates only, provided by the drivers in good faith, Deliveroo and Menulog seem to be the better platforms to work for, while Uber Eats and DoorDash seem utterly horrible and exploitative.
Nat is on Instagram
*Not his real name.
**The numbers in this article are estimates only and were provided by drivers in good faith.