Talabat food delivery drivers go on rare strike in Dubai

Talabat drivers refuse to work until pay demands are met, after similar action by Deliveroo drivers earlier in May.

Commuters drive along Sheikh Zayed Road past commercial and residential properties in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, October 13, 2020
Strike action is rare in Dubai [File: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg]

Foreign food-delivery workers in the United Arab Emirates have staged a mass walkout, calling for better pay and working conditions in a rare instance of industrial action in the country.

The strike on Tuesday followed similar action earlier this month in which foreign workers forced another company to suspend plans to cut pay.

In the latest episode, drivers for Talabat, the Middle East unit of the German company Delivery Hero, on Monday evening began refusing to make deliveries in Dubai, the country’s financial centre and a regional tourism hub.

In the early hours of Tuesday outside a restaurant in Dubai, a group of Talabat drivers said they had been encouraged to take action to demand a better deal after seeing the success of a strike earlier this month by Deliveroo delivery workers.

That strike, which massively disrupted Deliveroo’s services on May 1, saw the British food delivery company meet driver demands not to proceed with plans to cut pay.

Independent trade unions, public protests and industrial action are banned in the oil-rich Gulf country.

Demand for pay raise

The Talabat drivers said they were calling for the equivalent of a $0.54 increase in payments to $2.59 per order to help with higher fuel costs, which have risen more than 30 percent this year in the UAE.

“If Deliveroo gives this price … why are we not getting [it]?,” a Pakistani Talabat driver said, requesting anonymity over fears of reprisals from the company and authorities.

Deliveroo drivers in Dubai earn about $2.79 per delivery.

A Talabat spokesperson said its delivery drivers on average were earning 3,500 dirhams ($953) a month. The number of hours worked for that was not disclosed.

There had been no recent change in the pay rates and until last week 70 percent of drivers had been satisfied with Talabat’s earnings structure, the spokesperson said.

Talabat drivers, however, said that after paying for petrol they were earning 2,500 dirhams ($680) a month by working 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week.

The drivers warned the strike could continue until the company committed to the pay increase, but some were wary of falling foul of authorities if the action lasted too long.

UAE authorities have not made any public statements on the issue at the time of publication.

A Delivery Hero spokesperson said the company was aware of the strike, in close contact with Talabat and in constant dialogue with drivers to improve benefits and conditions.

“The local team in the United Arab Emirates is making it their priority to find a joint solution,” the spokesperson said.

Many delivery drivers in the UAE, including those working for Talabat, say they are employed by agencies who illegally charge them for working permits and other fees.

Source: Reuters