Deliveroo sought changes to Irish labour law amid claim students ‘desire’ platform work

Food delivery giant says flexibility is a ‘pull factor’ for international students as labour rights campaigner calls out ‘doublespeak’

Deliveroo told the Government over two years ago it was aware of a “significant desire” among international students to work on its platform despite legislation barring them from holding accounts.

Correspondence shows the food delivery company told then tánaiste and minister for enterprise Leo Varadkar “the suitability of flexible platform ... acts as a significant pull factor” for English language students who are in Ireland on stamp two visas.

It is not known what proportion of Ireland’s food delivery workforce is made up of such visa holders, who are allowed to work only up to 20 hours a week legally during term time and are barred from being self-employed.

Delivery riders and their advocates, however, say such students from non-EEA countries like Brazil provide the backbone of an industry that is associated with low pay and hazardous working conditions.


In a letter dated March 10th, 2021, to Mr Varadkar, Deliveroo Ireland’s general manager, Paddy Quinlan, said: “It is increasingly clear that the law prohibiting Stamp 2 visa holders from being self-employed has presented a significant challenge for international students who would like to support their studies by earning income.”

The submission formed part of extensive lobbying by Deliveroo to have the Government relax employment legislation surrounding these visa holders.

Last week, The Irish Times reported on the subletting of accounts to non-EEA students, with many delivery riders paying €50-150 per week to rent accounts from “middle men”. This figure does not include a 20 per cent charge on income that some account holders are now levying, purportedly to cover tax to Revenue.

A Deliveroo spokesperson said all riders must have the right to work on a self-employed basis in Ireland in order to have an account with them and it took this fact “extremely seriously”, having robust checks and processes in place to ensure this.

“Deliveroo has previously suggested that the Irish Government consider amendments to the law to ensure it keeps up with the changing nature of work – preventing any abuse of the current system and enabling more people to benefit from the type of flexible, self-employed work we offer,” the spokesperson said.

The company has said that allowing Stamp 2 visa holders work as self-employed would prevent them from being exploited due to their inability to access other forms of employment.

In its 2021 “charter for flexible and secure work”, Deliveroo defends its employment conditions on the basis that working for the company is “ideally suited to people who have other commitments”. It says: “About 50 per cent of riders are students and 20 per cent have caring responsibilities.”

Deliveroo’s webpage to apply to be a rider offers itself in English as well as Brazilian Portuguese – the variation of the European language that is spoken in South America – in an apparent acknowledgment that a considerable number of riders come from Brazil.

Records released by the Department of Enterprise also show the company met Mr Varadkar and then minister of state Damien English to lobby for changes to the proposed European Union directive on digital labour platforms.

In a letter to Mr English in June 2022, representatives of Deliveroo and digital platform companies Buymie, Gigable and Bolt argued “in its current form, the EU proposals, including the rebuttable presumption of employment, puts at risk genuine self-employment”.

The draft directive includes a presumption of employment where a platform controls pay and conditions, with the burden of proof on the company to rebut employment obligations.

Fiachra Ó Luain, co-founder of the English Language Students Union which campaigns on behalf of riders, said he believed Deliveroo was using “doublespeak” to legislators and the general public.

Instead of trying to change the law to facilitate precarious work, companies like Deliveroo should be “simply paying people properly”, he said.

“They hide their exploitation of workers behind buzzwords like ‘flexibility’ as they force workers to work longer hours for ever-decreasing pay.

“People need to inform themselves about what is at stake in the final negotiations around the EU platform work directive and mobilise against modern day slavery.”

Mr Ó Luain also urged new RTÉ director general, Kevin Bakhurst, to “ban any company that doesn’t pay workers minimum wage from advertising or sponsoring programmes” on the national broadcaster amid ongoing controversy about disparities in pay rates at RTÉ.

Ellen O’Donoghue

Ellen O’Donoghue

Ellen O'Donoghue is an Irish Times journalist