[WATCH] Cabinet discusses food courier illegal employment practices

Prime Minister Robert Abela says government will take action on recruitment agencies to stem illegal practices involving food couriers

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

Government plans to take action against the illegal work practices involving food couriers that are adopted by recruitment agencies, Prime Minister Robert Abela said.

He confirmed that the matter was discussed at a Cabinet meeting on Monday.

While he did not divulge the details of what was said during the meeting, he said that a plan is being drafted on how to address the situation.

Last Sunday MaltaToday revealed that recruitment agencies employed by Bolt and Wolt to supply food couriers are taking a 50% cut of the workers’ pay.

READ ALSO: Food couriers losing half their wages in illegal employment practice

While a self-employed delivery driver would rake in €5.35 on an average delivery run, a courier employed through a recruitment agency would make €2.70 for the same delivery.

The remaining €2.70 would be retained by the recruitment agency.

Several irregularities were reported across agencies – some couriers report having received their work equipment for free, with the motorbike and apparel included, while others reported paying a deposit or having the cost deducted from their first wage payment.

A courier who spoke to MaltaToday claimed to have paid €5,000 to a Maltese recruitment company over and above the expences associated with obtaining a visa and work permit, just to secure a job with Bolt.

Such recruitment companies are in breach of Malta's employment laws, which stipulate that an employer nor temporary agency cannot demand payment or make deductions from the wages paid to an employee.

Union heads spoke to MaltaToday on the issue, expressing concern over the commission paid out by the employee and a lack of contractual agreements among self-employed food couriers.

“Agencies should receive a commission from the employer ordering the service, not from the end-user, being the worker,” Josef Vella from UHM told MaltaToday.

He said that an online system, such as those of food delivery apps, isn't an excuse for the employer to exonerate themselves from a contractual relationship with their employees.

“The wage of a worker should never be touched,” he said.  

GWU general-secretary Josef Bugeja expressed a similar concern. "The fact that they are working like this, without conditions, is modern-day slavery. It needs to be addressed immediately," he said.

“It’s a double tragedy because whoever tries to offer basic conditions according to the law won’t be able to compete in the market and in turn close down. You have to see the ripple effect on the employee but also in the entire sector.”

He said that he brought up the issue with the employment relations board and the respective minister, and is further calling for better legislation which provides that every worker needs a contract of employment.

Bugeja has been highly critical of so-called “application workers” in the past, calling them 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,” he had told MaltaToday.

READ ALSO: ‘Your pizza delivery guy has no protection’ – GWU boss denounces gig work

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