How 500 Bolt couriers went on strike without a union

Street patrols and solidarity: with no union and no workplace, couriers took to the streets and used their local communities to spread word of a one-day strike

Hundreds of Bolt couriers went on strike last Friday despite having no union, no fixed workplace, and vulnerable working conditions. 

But how was it pulled off? One courier representative described to MaltaToday the 24 hours of street patrols that helped keep the strike afloat. 

“The excitement counting down till midnight to lay down our work and take action against such a big platform was immense,” they said of the owners of the Bolt booking platform that powers the connection between restaurants and online patrons.  

“We immediately started patrolling busy areas from midnight till 4/5am to spread the word to couriers who weren’t aware yet.” 

When news of the strike came out on Thursday morning, reports were estimating that around 300 couriers were expected to take part. But when Friday came around, roughly 500 couriers stopped taking deliveries for the day. “In the morning from 8am we were back on the roads strongly, back to patrolling and speaking to our colleagues with active applications,” the representative told MaltaToday. 

At this stage, couriers are demanding an increase in their bonus payments. Payment per delivery varies depending on the time of the delivery and the distance covered to deliver the food. Couriers get paid 40c for each kilometre travelled, while the bonus for carrying out a delivery ranges from 25c at lunchtime hours, to €1.60 between 7pm and 9pm.  

For couriers, the problem is that these bonuses have been on the decline for years. Bolt initially changed their pricing mechanism in November 2020, with an average delivery bonus of 75c. Nowadays, it can range from 30c to 50c depending on the earnings schedule of the day.  

The problem is exacerbated for third-country nationals working as couriers through recruitment agencies, with 40-50% of their pay going to the agency they work for. 

Courier organising is a typically difficult feat as there are no fixed locations, like an office, to meet all couriers at once. But most couriers, especially third-country nationals from Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan, enjoy strong solidarity networks among their local communities in Malta. 

“Driving around all day and seeing the effect of this strike, the unity and the excitement in everyone’s voices was heartwarming,” the spokesperson said. “We have patrolled all night and day to create awareness. We have received tons of positive feedback from the public, supporting us and cheering us on. We are really grateful for the support received from all, even unexpected, corners.” 

While couriers received lots of positive support from the public, the recruitment agencies that bring third-country nationals to Malta were not as pleased. Some couriers received threats from their agencies that their Bolt account would be shut down. 

“The thing that saddened my heart is hearing stories from colleagues receiving threats and/or blackmail from recruitment agencies. Even though they remained with us, I take my hat off to these people for their strength shown.” 

Bolt couriers working through recruitment agencies suffer particularly harder working conditions compared to their self-employed counterparts. Third-country nationals are forced to meet weekly financial targets, roughly €600 per week depending on the agency they work for, or risk having their fuel allowances taken or being issued a warning by the company.  

From the €600 they earn in a week, the recruitment agency keeps 40% to 50% of the pay. This means that some couriers are left with a minimum take-home pay of €300 a week, to be spent on living expenses, loan payments, or remittances to their families back home.  

The strike itself left many restaurants unable to deliver their orders. “We have seen a massive strain on Bolt Food operations. They could not meet demands and many orders were left waiting for a substantial amount of time.” 

As things stand, Bolt has committed itself to “optimising” the pricing mechanism used to calculate the take-home pay of each courier. However, they are yet to communicate any updates to the couriers themselves. 

“Even though we haven’t heard back from Bolt, our fight doesn’t stop here.”