February 23, 2024
Aspiring solicitors and barristers interested in employment law might be interested to discuss the nuances of the recent international food delivery strikes.

What are the food delivery strikes?

Delivery drivers from a number of different companies which facilitate food delivery services are going on strike this week in the latest chapter amidst ongoing disputes about drivers getting a ‘bad deal’. The strikes have been informally co-ordinated online for the most part, spreading from the US to Canada and the UK (with drivers across many other countries now showing interest in joining too). In some areas, more formal pressure groups have started to form around the issue (for example with Delivery Job UK). Affected companies include Uber Eats, Lyft, DoorDash, Just Eat, Deliveroo, and Stuart.

As a result of the latest round of complaints, drivers across the world have joined together to avoid making deliveries on Valentine’s Day – which has understandably been one of the most profitable days of the year for many of these companies historically. 

Other drivers are taking it further, with picketed demonstrations planned outside major headquarters of these companies (especially Uber’s San Francisco base).

Why are the food delivery strikes happening?

There are a number of complaints being discussed as part of these ongoing disputes.

Arguably the most significant issue has been reduced pay for many of the drivers. Coupled with the cost of living crisis, many of these workers feel that their drop in earnings (down as much as 17% for Uber Eats according to some analyses) have made relying on this work almost impossible. This is especially contentious considering the fact that most of these companies are actually doing relatively well on many standard metrics – Uber reported a significant landmark profit last week, even going as far as to announce a share buyback.

It’s not just lower wages that are a problem, however – it’s also about how those wages are calculated. Many drivers are discussing the lack of transparency in regard to the apparent discrepancies between what the customers pay and what the drivers themselves receive (with many suggestions that the likes of Deliveroo or Just Eat are taking an increasingly exorbitant cut).

Finally, there have been some (although probably less widespread) criticisms of the safety afforded to delivery drivers operating on these apps, with drivers pointing to a number of risks to their health on the roads.


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What is the relevance of food delivery strikes to lawyers?

There are a number of legal issues thrown up by this story. Aspiring lawyers might be interested in raising some of these points in the contexts of their application forms or interviews. For example, this could make for a great discussion as part of a vacation scheme or training contract application for aspiring solicitors, or an excellent talking point as part of a pupillage or mini-pupillage application for aspiring barristers.

To start with, there are those legal problems which are inherent context to the story itself – the backdrop to these recent strikes. There have been a significant number of cases going through courts across the world over the last few years as the ‘gig economy’ (individuals earning through casual, flexible, freelance work like food delivery driving, often as a side hustle) continues to grow in modern society.

For example, a recent minimum wage for this specific subcategory of worker was imposed in New York in 2023. Also, a highly publicised Supreme Court case in the UK a few months ago saw them tackle the question of whether Deliveroo drivers could be considered to be ‘employees’ or in something ‘akin to an employment relationship’ with the company itself (the outcome was, put rather simply, ‘no’). 

As suggested by the Supreme Court case here in the UK, the status of these drivers raises a number of points that lawyers active in the practice area of employment law will likely be particularly interested in. Anyone studying tort law as a module within most UK university courses (whether an LLB or even a PGDL) will have likely looked at vicarious liability in some detail. This could be through cases like Barclays Bank Plc v Various Claimants (‘akin to employment’) or Ready Mixed Concrete v Minister of Pensions (employment relationship) – useful further reading for those looking to go further.

There are other practice areas from which to consider this story, too. Consider a more corporate angle – when directors at Uber are announcing record profits and introducing a share buyback scheme to investors, but at the same time face huge staff complaints, could they be seen, under company law (consider Companies Act 2006 director’s duties, for instance), to be breaching any of their responsibilities as an employer?

To take a less legal and more commercial view (as is often required of lawyers at top firms nowadays), could it be suggested that such moves, even if completely legal from a textbook perspective, do more to harm staff morale and (crucially, from a shareholder perspective) public image than any benefits gained by being a little more conservative on staff pay than most would like? Commercial awareness issues like these are extremely useful to discuss at interviews – many firms who deal with especially large businesses (for example Magic Circle or elite US outfits) will be particularly interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Finally, it’s worth noting the international element of these stories. There will certainly be different labour laws in place across different jurisdictions that a company like Uber operates within – so it will be a lawyer’s job to unpack the complexities of all those different regulatory frameworks (which may well require a number of legal skills, like effective collaboration with satellite offices of your firm abroad).


In short, this latest development in the ongoing battle between food delivery drivers and their ‘employers’ is likely to throw up even more issues relevant to aspiring lawyers – across a number of different practice areas and perspectives. Utilising such a story within the application process can be an excellent way of demonstrating your interest in legal practice.


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