September 30, 2022
Business/Tech

Undocumented Workers Protest Uber Eats Crackdown

undocumented-workers-protest-uber-eats-crackdown

Protesters are accusing Uber of exploiting undocumented workers’ precarious status and using them to pump and dump courier numbers as demand rises and falls. The company made it easy for undocumented workers to apply to work on its platform during the pandemic when takeaway demand was high, unions say. But now, as analysts project delivery demand will continue to fall, couriers are being kicked off. Uber Eat’s latest financial results showed monthly users, basket size, and order frequency only grew between 1 and 3 percent in the three months leading to June 2022, compared to last year.

The hospitality industry in Paris has long relied on undocumented workers to avoid labor shortages. “Every restaurant owner in Paris has someone working under an alias,” Jean Ganizate, the cofounder of the Melt restaurant group, told Le Monde in June, referring to undocumented workers who apply for jobs using someone else’s residency permit.

“As part of our commitment to fight document fraud and illegal work, we conducted a thorough audit of UberEats courier accounts in France,” says Uber spokesperson Matt Keirle, declining to comment on the timing of the crackdown. The audit of Uber Eats’ 60,000 French couriers, which was carried out by an external company specializing in document authentication, found 4 percent of those accounts either had false documents or were linked to the creation of multiple courier accounts, according to Uber’s own data.

The timing of the crackdown raises questions for some. “Why has [Uber] decided the account is fraudulent after two years of service?” Aboladji says. He applied for an Uber Eats account in 2020 using someone else’s document because he did not have the papers to apply for jobs in France, he says. His application was approved, and for the next two years he worked for the platform without any problems. On August 23, his account was blocked. His profile picture on the app did not match the documents he had uploaded, Uber told him.

These deactivations have enraged French unions, which believe Uber Eats is deactivating accounts as growth stalls. “The decision took place without workers being notified,” says Fabian Tosolini, a delegate of the Independents Unions, which represents self-employed workers in France but is not involved in today’s protest. “They woke up and found they were not able to connect to the app. Their revenue just stopped.”

This was also the experience of Bassekou Cissoko, whose Uber Eats account was deactivated on July 28, 2022. The courier signed up to work for Uber Eats in 2019, using someone else’s Italian identity card. Uber spent two weeks verifying his documents, he says, before his application was approved. For the next three years, he says he worked 98 hours per week making deliveries for the platform. “During Covid, when everyone was in lockdown to protect themselves from the disease, we gave our lives to Uber and the clients,” he says.

Many of the couriers who were disconnected have Italian identity cards, which state they can’t be used to work outside of Italy, says Thomas Aonzo, president of the Independents Union. But he claims that Uber Eats has since 2018 allowed couriers to use this type of card to create an account. Italian identity cards are common among asylum seekers in Europe, including people who have entered the continent by crossing the short stretch of water separating North Africa and Italy.

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