Food delivery drivers fired after ‘reduced price’ GPS app sends them down ‘impossible’ routes | Courier/delivery industry

Drivers delivering food and drinks for Just Eat have been sacked after a cut-price GPS system led them astray, according to the union that represents them.

The couriers, who work for Stuart, a company that supplies drivers to some of Britain’s largest restaurants and retailers, told the Observer they were fired via proforma email after being misplaced by the GPS system or deviating from impossible or dangerous routes.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) claims there are dozens of Stuart couriers in cities across the country, from Exeter to Leeds, who have lost their jobs in this way. Those who spoke with Observer they described their pain over this treatment and anxiety about their ability to pay rent, bills and basic expenses as the cost of living continues to rise.

Alex Marshall, president of the IWGB, said the cases were “among the most egregious examples of a gig economy that is increasingly squeezing workers as much as possible and then just abandoning them without any accountability.

“The decision to use this GPS system is about cutting costs for Stuart, but the ramifications for couriers are huge,” he suggested.

“People are losing their livelihoods in an instant and those who are still working are putting their lives at risk.” Evidence shared with Observer suggests that Stuart brought his GPS system in-house as a cost-cutting measure and is aware of the problems.

In a direct message conversation on Twitter, shared with the Observer, a senior Stuart manager can be seen telling a courier: “Stuart has a directions service built in-house and it’s not very good. We used to use Google Maps directions, but they increased the price 10 times.”

When the courier replies “people are being fired for allegedly going off the rails and you just said it’s wrong,” the manager acknowledges, “it’s not perfect, yes.” [sic].”

Until May, Adnan Odawa, 35, worked full time for the Stuart app, starting each day at McDonald’s in Sutton Coldfield. On a Tuesday morning he cycled 10 miles from his home in Birmingham as usual, pulling out his phone on arrival to log into the app as he had for the past three years. But that morning, he had a new message: his account had been terminated and his access to the platform blocked.

In a proforma email seen by the ObserverStuart told Odawa that several of his deliveries had been “flagged for severe delays caused by excessive diversion”, including three order numbers listed in the email.

Odawa didn’t recognize two of them and the third was related to a job where he arrived on time and made the delivery, but, he says, the app’s GPS incorrectly located the address, forcing him to bike nearly a mile. to the wrong place. to mark the job as complete. “He was shocked,” he said. “I thought, ‘If you have a problem with me for the first time in three years, you could at least message me and let me know.'”

For Odawa, giving in to GPS was the only option. The app includes a chat feature for couriers to resolve issues on shift, but when Odawa used this previously, he was left waiting for up to an hour, unable to communicate with a human.

Screenshots shared with the Observer shows messengers pleading their cases in a similar way to the chatbot, which repeatedly replies: “Don’t worry, an agent will take it from here” and: “This is an automated message, please don’t reply” before asking them to rate the conversation by clicking in an emoticon

After his employment ended, Odawa emailed Stuart repeatedly, but received only standardized emails in return, stating that his reinstatement application had been denied and the decision was final.

Marshall said that the IWGB had investigated 55 cases since March 2021 and that in most cases, the messengers did not have the opportunity to review the decision with human participation.

An online appeal form was introduced at the end of 2021 after the union campaign, but states that dismissals will only be reviewed when couriers can provide “objective evidence” that they were not at fault. Stuart can legally terminate couriers without notice or reason, as they are classified as independent contractors, not employees.

Screenshots and photos shared with the Observer they show a driver in Plymouth being sent through a construction site, with warning signs visible, and a driver from South East London being sent through a road closure. Others show a driver in East London being instructed to break traffic regulations by turning right despite a no right turn sign.

While less well known than Deliveroo or Uber, Stuart, a subsidiary of parcel delivery company DPD, is a leading player in the gig economy. He is active in over 100 cities worldwide, mostly in the UK as a subcontractor for Just Eat in England and Wales. Just Eat declined to comment.

Sandeep Salgotra, 36, worked full time with Stuart in Leicester until he was sacked in April for “GPS jamming and tampering”. Prior to his dismissal, he claims to have received a series of warnings on the subject, which he did not understand, since he could not find any problem with his GPS connection.

When Stuart didn’t respond to his queries, he says, he changed his network provider. When the warnings continued, he spent £1,500 on a new phone, but nothing changed. She eventually received a response from Stuart, seen by the Observer, telling him, “You don’t need to worry about being flagged at this stage… For now, everything is fine with your status.” Two weeks later, he says, he was fired.

“It has been very painful and I am fighting; I support my family since my wife is not working,” said Salgotra. “I have never done anything wrong in my life. I don’t understand why Stuart treats us this way.

Other messengers who spoke with the Observer after being fired for routing and GPS reasons, they similarly described confusion over the cause of their firings and frustration at the company’s refusal to respond to messages or engage in discussion.

A courier says he sent several emails to Stuart explaining that his phone connection sometimes dropped in the rural area where he made deliveries, but received no response. An appeal he filed in February has so far gone unanswered, he says.

Another courier received a termination email citing “GPS tampering” while in hospital recovering from a traffic accident that occurred during the previous night’s shift. Subsequent emails from him, which included photos of his canceled motorcycle, went unanswered.

Marshall said the fired couriers were “assumed beyond doubt that they were acting fraudulently and were denied fair and due process.” Many new couriers are immigrant workers recently arrived in an area that need the GPS system and are therefore vulnerable to its failures, he notes.

The union says the GPS issues are just one of many concerns of Stuart couriers, some of whom are involved in the informal economy’s longest-running strike over wages and conditions. Earlier in the strike, Stuart agreed to resolve an issue that had resulted in the unfair dismissal of couriers whose insurance details had been incorrectly recorded by the company.

A spokesman for Stuart said the company “takes the issue of the messaging service’s exit very seriously”, adding: “We are unable to comment publicly on individual cases, but only make a decision to withdraw when we have sufficient evidence to support it.” our decision, no exceptions.”

They added: “Stuart operates an appeals process that is followed in every case where an appeal is filed.”

For messengers, the effects of endings are profound. “I had to tell my children that we can’t go anywhere this year, we will just stay in England,” said Odawa, a father of three.

“[Stuart] act as if we were nothing; they just stop responding and continue.”

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