Alexandre Rissatto: We are on alert all the time. I knew about the assaults, but I never thought it would be this bad
I had an idea of what it was like to work as a delivery rider in Dublin. There are a lot of videos online. I knew about the assaults, but I never thought it would be this bad. This is a European country. And coming here was a dream.
I study English and love what I do. I’ve learned a lot working as a Deliveroo rider on Dublin streets, and now I teach Brazilians who want to do the same – giving them tips and advice on areas to avoid.
Many people are afraid. Others give up. Only a few people like me prefer working overnight shifts. I work every day from 5pm to 3am. The payment depends. It’s about €600 per week but can go up to €1,000. There are a lot of costs too.
I pay €70 weekly to rent the electric bike I use, plus €20 for the battery, €70 for renting the account and 20 per cent for taxes. There is rent, food, the costs to renew the visa, and the English course fee. I live in a hostel close to Parnell Street. I pay to store my bike now. It’s about €70 a month.
Even though I used three locks to secure my bike outside my house, it almost was stolen the other day. We are tired of going to the gardaí and nothing being done. It is very odd. So, we have our own recovery operation going on through WhatsApp groups. If a bike is stolen and has a tracking device, we share it and organise ourselves to recover it. As we are a group of many riders, the thieves usually get scared and we can recover the bike with no violence or fights. As a group, we succeeded more in recovering bikes.
We do not have support because we rent the delivery account. If something happens to me, I am not the one who could receive assistance. The account is in someone else’s name. We know this is not right, but we have no option
When something happens on the streets, it could be very bad. There are violent fights, stones being thrown at us, eggs. On Friday, one day after the riots, they threw a bag full of pee on my friend.
There are people who are attacked every week and give up working as a delivery rider. We were waiting for an order close to Burger King on O’Connell Street on Wednesday, and someone came arguing with us, saying: “Go back to your country.” We don’t want to steal anyone’s job. We need to work; we need a better life.
We are on alert all the time. If before we could use headphones, now it’s better off. You need to see the street’s movement to see if someone hides in the dark. Some areas must be avoided. We have a map shared between us, and we keep it updated.
Gardaí stopped me once. I was smoking a cigarette and locking my bike when they came to me, saying that I was associating myself with a crime. It was tough to express myself in English. I tried to use Google Translate. They searched me. But how would I be involved in a crime? I was just locking my bike before buying cigarettes.
The only safety I have is that I always have my camera with me. I record everything. So, I have proof that I’m not the one doing something wrong.
We do not have support because we rent the delivery account. If something happens to me, I am not the one who could receive assistance. The account is in someone else’s name. We know this is not right, but we have no option. There is a lot of racism, too.
I am a black male, and nobody is going to change that. I am 42 years old, so I am used to that. Even here, it doesn’t shock me as much. I came from Brazil to pursue a better life in this country, you know? I won’t give up on my dreams because someone called me a monkey. Is this bad? Yes. Horrible. But I always dealt with racism.
Alexandre Rissatto (41) from Curitiba, Brazil. In conversation with Isabela Boechat
Darragh Golden: Other countries are looking at ways to improve working conditions for delivery drivers
An inconvenient truth for those involved in inciting an anti-immigration riot last week following the stabbing of three small children and their teacher is that a heroic act by a migrant, Caio Benicio, most likely prevented any further injuries, even fatalities. The Brazilian Deliveroo worker described how he realised he was witnessing an attack, dismounted and hit the suspect on the head with his motorcycle helmet. Benicio echoed the thoughts of many onlookers when he said of the later rioting: “It does not make sense at all. I know the protest involved anti-migrant groups. And I, as a migrant, was the one that helped to hold back the assailant.”
Deliveroo suspended operations in Dublin that evening, and the following day reminded riders to work only “if you feel safe to do so”. As self-employed workers, riders do have autonomy – but that is to ignore the economic imperative to work. That night, riders were offered substantial increases by various platforms to work in Dublin – fees of €12.50 were offered in places such as the city centre where they would normally have made €5.
An incident in October in which 23-year-old João Ferreira, having rallied to help a friend recover a stolen bike, lost part of his leg was a reminder of the other risks riders face: safety issues resulting from xenophobic harassment and bike theft, economic uncertainty and precarious working conditions.
Can anything be done to improve working conditions for delivery drivers?
A conference in University College Dublin last summer brought together scholars from across Europe to present their research on questions such as food delivery riders, algorithmic management and employment relations. The conference heard that while the challenges of flexploitation – a type of work that marries precarity with exploitation – are the same everywhere, some countries have attempted regulation of the sector.
Deliveroo is lobbying for the extension of self-employment to Stamp 2 visa holders. But this would only ensure a bigger army of ‘independent’ contractors who feel compelled to ride all the hours available just to get by
In Norway, Sweden and Austria, collective agreements have been signed between trade unions and the platforms. Elsewhere, UK and Dutch unions have gone down the legal route to challenge the ‘contractor’ status of gig workers, with mixed results. The courts have sided with the workers in some instances (Uber drivers and riders in the UK and Netherlands), and with the platforms in others (Deliveroo in the UK).
A landmark ruling in Spain saw the Government initiate legislation giving platform workers more employment rights. Deliveroo subsequently announced plans to end its operations in the country. But so far Ireland has not had a test case on this question and unions have not organised riders with a view to securing collective representation.
Food delivery companies recruit riders by promising maximum flexibility, and offering a simple onboarding process with no language criteria. On its application portal, Deliveroo states “Organise your work to fit around your lifestyle and get more flexibility.” But flexibility can mean different things. One rider interviewed in his newspaper described having “worked at least eight to 12 hours daily, up to seven days a week”. This coincides with trends elsewhere as riders work increasing hours just to get by in unforgiving cities where the cost of living is constantly breathing down their necks.
In Ireland, there is an additional layer of complexity as Brazilian riders are here on a Stamp 2 visas. Due to visa restrictions on self-employment, many have to sublet accounts from others. This means their pay potential is diminished further and their vulnerability increased as they are beholden, financially and digitally, to the official account holder.
Deliveroo is lobbying for the extension of self-employment to Stamp 2 visa holders. But this would only ensure a bigger army of ‘independent’ contractors who feel compelled to ride all the hours available just to get by.
In Norway, where I recently conducted research, riders with Foodora are not only offered part-time contracts, but there is also a collective agreement between the transport union and the food-delivery company. This was achieved following a five-week strike by the riders with support from unions and broader society. That kind of collective action – backed by public support – may be what’s needed.
Darragh Golden is an Ad Astra Fellow at University College Dublin, where he also teaches employment relations and HRM.