Getting to know the frontline: food delivery rider Alice
Alice Barker, a food delivery rider, talks to Emily Woods about working on the frontline during a global pandemic.
Explain your job? I started doing delivery for Deliveroo in 2016 on a push bike. I’ve worked for all the main companies and they’re all paid on a per drop rate rather than an hourly rate. If there’s no orders, I’m not making any money. When you sign in [to the app] you’re given the restaurant details, for some platforms, you also get told where the customer is. Then you go to the restaurant, pick up the order, you’re following all the instructions on the app, often you have to wait, you drop it off, and then you’re kind of sitting waiting to catch another order. And you can just keep doing that over and over again. It’s quite a precarious job in an employment sense, but, also, it’s a dangerous job - we’re on roads, cycling around, and we’re going around to random stranger’s houses.
Do you remember your first day at work? Yes… it was raining, and I had my period and I was like, well, it can’t get any worse than this. I remember kind of doing a few hours and it being really surreal and it took me a while to build up to doing all day or doing a whole afternoon. On one side, the company felt like it was kind of making up the rules as it was going along. Whereas now it feels a lot more professional behind the scenes, but also a lot more removed from the worker. There’s no office that we can visit, you have to email them any problems. It’s changed incredibly since I started.
Do you come across many other women doing your job? Not many. There’s very, very few of us.
Why do you think that is? I think there’s multiple dimensions to it. There’s the risk element and whether women are thinking it’s not for them, or they’re put off by their friends and family. But something that’s really interesting is in countries where they have a huge amount of people cycling, like Denmark, the ratio of men and women cycling is actually very equal, but in the UK we have a relatively low level of people cycling and it is like vastly dominated by men.
How has your job been affected by coronavirus? It’s strange. So, in one sense, there’s a feeling that it’s one of the jobs which is continuing, but certainly at the moment we’re in this period of flux where people are just feeling quite unsettled all over and have also stocked up on everything from the supermarkets, so our demand’s actually been extremely low. A lot of customers are students and because all the universities have now closed, a lot of people have chosen to go back and stay with their families. Also, people are just being a bit cautious about eating food that they’ve not prepared, which I really understand.
How do you feel about being labelled as a key worker? I think, if I’m a key worker just now, I’m a key worker all of the time. I’m certainly not putting myself in the same box as people who are working in the emergency services or the NHS, but there is a sense that, actually, when you’re down to the bare-bones of what’s going on right now, which is just so fast-moving, the food supply chain and distribution has a really important role to play in keeping all of these other essential services going.
What would you do if you had to self-isolate? I believe Uber Eats and Just Eat, who I’m currently doing work for, have promised various financial assistance systems. However, I don’t think anyone has been able to access any of these and I know a number of people that have had to self-isolate. They’re [the companies] asking for things like evidence that you’re self-isolating, or that you’ve been given a sick note from your doctor, but no one’s doing that.