«You don't live in a country where you can go on strike»

«You don't live in a country where you can go on strike»

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Patrick Le Tréhondat

This is what the boss of Bolt Food, an Estonian food delivery company based in Ukraine, said to the striking couriers demanding a wage increase and better working conditions. The previous notable strike by Bolt Food couriers broke out in 2021, without success. Then the couriers accused the company of having reduced the payment of the order by 50%.

October 20, Kyiv, Bastionna Street. Striking couriers from Bolt Food gathered in front of the company's offices. The security guards at the company explain to them (not very) diplomatically that there will be no dialogue with the management of the company, the regional director of the company is aware of the strike, but he is busy with important business. This is the fifth strike by Bolt Food couriers in the past month. The first was held in Dnipro at the beginning of October

During the three years that Bolt Food has been operating in Ukraine, prices have risen: gasoline, food, spare parts for vehicles, food in restaurants, etc. However, there is one thing that has not increased by a cent: the income of the Bolt Food courier. «And there is a limit to everything. The revenues your company gives us are unbearable for the courier, and your business continues to exist only because of the lies about your courier job offers, which promise fabulous revenues. The straw that broke the camel's back in all cities of Ukraine was the cancellation of the payment for the journey to the restaurant» said the couriers in an appeal to the management of Bolt Food.

When addressing management, the couriers formulated their claims concerning, inter alia:

  1. Introducing a minimum payment of 70 UAH (1. 81 euro) per order.
  2. Increasing the rate and mileage rate by 70% without reducing the bonus coefficient. That is quite right in view of the depreciation of the national currency and the consequent rise in prices. In other words, in parallel with the growth of the platform's revenues, the revenues of the couriers are expected to increase proportionally.
  3. Guaranteed hourly payment of 95 UAH (2. 46 euros) in the absence of orders for more than one hour online.
  4. Restoration of weekly premiums.
  5. Charging of the waiting time of the courier at the establishment if the establishment is more than 5 minutes late in the delivery of the order.
  6. Amnesty for all couriers whose accounts have been unjustly blocked.

If the demands are not met, the couriers have promised to continue their pearl strikes. And that's what's happening now: once or twice a week, Bolt's couriers go on strike. «Bolt Food, with its game of decreasing the wages of couriers, has forgotten an important thing: the less a person earns, the easier it is for them not to go to work on the day of the strike, because they have almost nothing to lose,» explain the strikers.

At the end of September, Kyiv was «divided» into certain areas with different payment rates. Almost the entire left bank of the capital is in «pink» zone with reduced rates, said couriers. This provoked a new wave of protests, an increase in the number of participants in the strike. As a sign of the frenzy surrounding the Bolt Food courier strike, the Ukrainian edition of the pro-business magazine Forbes devoted an article to the conflict on 25 October.

Testimonies of strikers

Viacheslav is 18 years old. He is studying computer science and has works at Bolt Food in Kyiv since 2022. He makes his deliveries by bicycle, which is dangerous because of the war. «Yes, that's right. Especially at the beginning of the war, there was a great danger due to the regular bombardments, but today I am no longer afraid» he confides. He says he earns between 424 and 471 euros a month. «But with a motorcycle, you can earn more» he adds. For the strike, «we decide by cat our actions, but we do not plan to found a union, we still do not have such self-organization. However, we have relationships with struggling couriers from other cities». As for the outcome of the conflict, he tells us «in the history of independent Ukraine (32 years), we have experienced two major revolutions, so why can’t we make a revolution at Bolt Food for better working conditions and higher wages

Gromov, 25, works at Foot Bolt in Dnipro. «I am an activist for platform workers and I ran a former courier union. I have been active since 2019. Currently, I manage the largest messenger chat on Telegram in Ukraine, with a total of about 20,000 subscribers» he explains. «I've been working for Bolt Food since the start of the platform's operations in Ukraine (autumn 2020). Three years ago, I was earning about 94 euros for a 12-hour day. At present, the average income of Bolt food couriers is about 328 euros for 12 hours of work. All of these amounts are gross, not including the expenses [related to the maintenance of motorcycles or bicycles], which typically account for 30 to 50 percent of the couriers’ income,» he adds. On the dangerousness of the work of a courier, he specifies that «the work of a courier is always dangerous, whether one is at war or in peace. You can see that different research shows that driving is in the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the world and these studies only focus on cars and their drivers. Most couriers use two-wheeled vehicles, which have a mortality rate 25 to 30 times higher than that of four-wheeled vehicles. Basically, courier work is almost suicide and I don't see the difference between death from a bombing and death from a car accident. The war has brought a lot of inconvenience not seen in the work of the couriers, such as waiting for the end of an alert to go to the restaurant to pick up a meal, and forcing all workers to go to shelters, subway stations or underground car parks. Regarding his activist activity, he explains it this way: «I tell people what to do and they do it. A first strike began in the city of Dnipro due to the cancellation of the experimental system of decent payments to couriers. It is the spark that has kindled the flame of the fury of couriers from other cities who earn pathetic wages. I had the idea of calling a strike in the last few months, but the opportunity did not come up. And the strike of the Dnieper couriers was this opportunity» Founding a trade union? Gromov is pessimistic: «I do not see the prospect of creating a union among young people who are often irresponsible and brainless, 90% of whom will change jobs after a few months. I tried several times in previous years, but those attempts failed.» Regarding his boss’s statement, «You don’t live in a country where you can strike» he replied, «I think that’s the response of a weak and pathetic leader, who shouldn’t be in such an important position. This guy's a complete failure, and I don't understand why Bolt still hasn't fired him.» As for his future, he tells us, «I see my personal future as bright as a summer’s day because I won’t be a courier for years to come».

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