Food couriers losing half their wages in illegal employment practice

Recruitment agencies are taking 50% of food courier earnings in illegal employment practices

A number of recruitment companies supplying migrant workers to food delivery platforms are in breach of Malta’s employment laws, MaltaToday has learnt.

The government is looking into practices by recruitment companies, to reveal the extent of their employment contracts and how they have been profiting from unorthodox platform work.

A senior government source spoke of well-founded suspicions of precarious employment, that has driven down food supply wages and delivery costs for platform companies such as Wolt and Bolt, with almost all workers are working up to 80 hours to earn just 50% of the expected monthly salary: €1,500 or even less.

Migrant workers zipping around the island on their scooters are over-worked, underpaid, lacking ordinary workers’ rights, denied overtime, and treated liked self-employed contractors in breach of Maltese laws.

“It is a dark picture of the growth of platform work during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it shows food couriers are being engaged as self-employed individuals,” the source said, citing a breach of multiple employment laws.

It could mean that agreements with service providers to pay food couriers according to what they deliver of the distance they cover, are not valid contracts of employment.

According to the government source, employees could be working some 60-70 hours weekly and taking back just €1,500 when they would have earned close to double that in payments, but then splitting it with their recruitment company.

Recruitment agencies enjoying partnerships with Bolt and Wolt are effectively benefiting from exactly 50% of the wages earned by food couriers, most of whom are third-country nationals hailing from South-East Asia, and are not paid vacation and sick leave, or government bonuses.

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The only constant is that a majority of recruitment agencies split the money generated by the courier at a 50:50 ratio – half is given to the courier as income, the other half is retained by the recruitment agency. On the other hand, some earn an hourly rate regardless of deliveries carried out.

A regular delivery raked in around €5.35 for a self-employed courier working directly under Bolt or Wolt, but a courier employed through a recruitment agency might make just €2.70 for that same delivery.

Procuring the company jacket and bag was another irregularity across agencies: some couriers report having received all the equipment for free, but others reported paying a deposit or having the cost deducted from their first payment.

Several couriers actually report paying thousands in recruitment fees to find a job in Malta. One courier who spoke to MaltaToday claimed they had paid €5,000 to a Maltese recruitment company over and above the expenses associated with obtaining a visa and work permit, just to secure a job with Bolt. The fee doesn’t cover equipment or visa application costs – it’s simply a mark-up charged to workers so that employment can be secured. 

Charging inflated recruitment fees is also a widespread practice. In the same way that food delivery companies pass on the costs of delivery services to employees, these agencies transferred the costs associated with recruitment to workers themselves. Such high recruitment fees were forcing workers into a state of vulnerability, leading many migrant workers to sell their assets or borrow from money-lenders or friends and family in order to finance an employment opportunity.

Malta’s Employment Relations Act stipulates that an employer cannot make any deductions through any contractual agreement from the wages that ought to be paid to the employee.

And recruitment agencies are no exception. According to the Temporary Agency Workers Regulations, temporary agencies cannot demand payment or charges on any temporary agency worker, and no deductions shall be taken from the wages of such workers. 

MaltaToday was told that agencies stipulate a weekly income target that couriers must reach. For RecruitGiant, the largest Bolt partner, the target stands at €450 per week, but repercussions were not severe if the goal isn’t reached. Failing to reach the mark warrants a call from the company to check why it wasn’t reached and to see if everything is okay.

A courier who spoke with MaltaToday estimated that there were roughly 100 couriers working with Bolt through RecruitGiant, while around 30-50 are employed under WT Global Ltd and carry out food delivery services for Bolt.

WT Global enjoys a partnership with Wolt too. Most couriers earn 50% of the amount they generate, but the wage and method of payment varies between each courier. Some report earning €5 or €7 an hour, others say they earn €800 per month, but the majority only retain 50%. Workers are also provided with €150 for fuel.

In the past, Josef Bugeja from the General Workers’ Union has said that so-called “application workers” will become the new labour slaves.

“This is a new world of gig work, where an application serves as a contract of service. The problem is that these workers don’t have employment conditions whatsoever. There is no contract binding them, only an application.

“You can hardly call them self-employed – at least when you’re self-employed you can have certain benefits or sick leave through a contract of service.”

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