Study of the value of flexible work for local delivery couriers
Some policymakers and unions have challenged the “gig economy” model of engaging independent workers and call for a reclassification of independent platform workers as employees. This policy shift would imply a move from a flexible work model, where couriers decide when and where to work, towards an inflexible work model, where the platforms or other employers of delivery staff predetermine hours.
Based on a novel pan-European survey of more than 16,000 couriers, latest public information, as well as new data sought from food delivery platforms, this study analyses:
- Why do people choose to work under an independent work model as a courier and what are their preferences regarding flexibility?
- What are the main characteristics of the delivery platforms’ business models, and what role does the flexible supply of couriers play in serving demand?
- What economic value is at risk if the flexible work model had to be abandoned?
This economic study does not research access to social protection and other aspects (e.g. legal) of labour conditions and models – even though they remain important issues to assess and discuss – but focuses on the value creation associated with flexibility.
Food delivery is a large sector enabling many opportunities for couriers to complement their existing activities by choosing courier work in a flexible mode, which couriers value
- Based on novel multi-source data, we estimate that yearly revenues of the food delivery ecosystem were EUR 20bn in Europe (2020). In this growing sector, food delivery platforms partnered with at least 375,000 active couriers on average per week (a higher number over a year). These couriers are at the centre of our study.
- Delivery work is a complementary activity for 72 per cent of couriers and makes up over half of couriers’ total income.
- Couriers actively seek and value flexible work. Flexibility is the main reason for working as a courier for two thirds of respondents. Over half would seek flexible work elsewhere / start a business if delivery work was not a possibility.
- Most couriers prefer a flexible work model over fixed employment. Almost 70 per cent of surveyed couriers would not give up flexibility for fixed schedules even if this hypothetically meant (at least 15 per cent) more income.
Abandoning the flexible work model would harm couriers’ jobs and earnings:
- The surveyed couriers estimate that their earnings would on average decrease by around 20 per cent if they could not work as couriers (but seek other types of work instead or do nothing else instead).
- If forced to work at hours pre-determined by the platforms/employer instead of flexible hours, up to 250,000 of the current couriers would lose the opportunity to work in food delivery. Under those circumstances, only some, but not all, of these workers will seek work elsewhere.
- Based on survey evidence, we estimate that up to 75,000 couriers in Europe could be entirely discouraged from the workforce if policy initiatives were to curtail flexible work both in the delivery sector and elsewhere. In short, for many of these couriers more traditional (inflexible) part- or full-time work is not an option.
- Correspondingly, up to EUR 800m in earnings for these workers are at stake if new policies were to curtail flexible work (for analysed scenarios and ranges of impacts see main text)
Abandoning the flexible work model would lead to inefficiencies and harm the entire food delivery eco-system:
- Consumers would pay more for a lower quality service and consumer demand may reduce as a result
- Couriers would have fewer opportunities and lower earnings
- Restaurants would sell less via delivery platforms and likely less overall
- Food delivery platforms would lose business and have additional cost
The study is commissioned by Delivery Platforms Europe (on behalf of Bolt, Deliveroo, Delivery Hero, Uber and Wolt). Download