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Dubai delivery drivers walk off job in rare protest over pay

DUBAI (AP) – Food-delivery drivers protesting wage cuts and gruelling working conditions went on an extremely rare strike in Dubai over the weekend – a mass walkout that paralysed one of the country’s main delivery apps and revived concerns about labour conditions in the emirate.

The strike started late Saturday and ended early on Monday, when London-based Deliveroo agreed in a letter to riders to restore workers’ pay to USD2.79 per delivery instead of the proposed rate of USD2.38 that had ignited the work stoppage as the company tried to cut costs amid surging fuel prices.

The Amazon-backed firm also backtracked on its plan to extend working shifts to 14 hours a day.

“It is clear that some of our original intentions have not been clear and we are listening to riders,” Deliveroo said in a statement to The Associated Press. “We have therefore currently paused all changes and will be working with our agency riders to ensure we have a structure that works for everyone and has our agency riders’ best interest at heart.”

Strikes remain illegal in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Dubai government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the strike.

A food-delivery worker for Deliveroo takes a break in Dubai. PHOTO: AP

Delivery workers in Dubai, who became a mainstay in the financial hub as demand boomed during the pandemic, have few protections.

To reduce cost, companies like Deliveroo outsource bikes, logistics and responsibility to contracting agencies – a labour pipeline that prevails across Gulf Arab states and can lead to mistreatment. Many impoverished migrants are plunged into debt paying their contractors exorbitant visa fees to secure their jobs.

The British food delivery service is valued at over USD8 billion.

News of the pay cut at Deliveroo – announced internally last week as the cost of fuel soars amid fallout from the war in Ukraine and continuing supply chain chokeholds – was devastating for 30-year-old driver Mohammadou Labarang.

Already, he was paying for the UAE’s record fuel prices out of his own pocket and barely scraping by, he said, with a wife and seven-month-old son back in Cameroo to support.

When Labarang logged onto social media, he found he was far from alone. Soon, he said, hundreds of Deliveroo drivers were organising on Telegram and WhatsApp.

Dozens of drivers parked their bikes by various Deliveroo warehouses in protest, according to footage widely shared on social media. Some shut down their apps. Others rested at their accommodations. Others went to restaurants and urged fellow couriers to stop mid-shift.