Unless you move to a foreign country, having to learn another language seems an unusual requirement for a job in a firm that specialises in delivering takeaways.
But managers at gig-economy company Deliveroo are expected to do just that.
“What’s wrong with pushing employees to develop new skills?” you may ask.
Unfortunately Deliveroo’s motives do not appear to be so benign, a six-page internal document leaked to press this week reveals.
The company isn’t interested in furthering its staff’s knowledge of French or Polish. Instead they want them to learn a language that more closely resembles George Orwell’s doublespeak.
The document lists the vocabulary managers should use when speaking to staff, seemingly to avoid instilling the idea that their couriers are employed by the company.
For instance, a manager could not tell a group of new couriers at a Deliveroo recruitment centre that they’ve got the job and they should pick up their uniforms, sign their contracts and collect their rota.
They would have to tell the “independent suppliers” at the “supply centre” that they’d been “onboarded” and they should pick up their “branded clothing”, sign their “supplier agreements” and “indicate their availability”.
Rather than telling a staff member who has been absent that “you did not attend a shift,” Deliveroo’s managers are instructed to say “you were unavailable to accept orders at a previously agreed time”.
Under no illusion
Deliberately or not, Deliveroo is attacking the fundamental purpose of language, which is to communicate. The firm’s couriers, like others in the gig-economy, are under no illusion that they are classed as self-employed. But by attempting to restrict words that bear any relation to accepted employment practices, and the rights and protections that go with them, Deliveroo is trying to ban the type language its staff would use to question their treatment at work.
As workers in the gig-economy, Deliveroo couriers have no right to the minimum wage, holiday or sick pay, or any of the other benefits employees in regular roles are entitled to – a situation which benefits Deliveroo’s bottom line enormously.
The problem extends beyond the confines of Deliveroo’s internal communications and out across the gig-economy and strikes at the heart of how convoluted language and legal gymnastics are being used to roll back workers’ rights.
This week chair of the work and pensions select committee, Labour MP Frank Fields, also blasted the incomprehensible employment contracts used by Deliveroo, Uber and other gig-economy companies, which he said are designed to hobble attempts by workers to stand up for themselves.
He said, “Quite frankly the Uber contract is gibberish. They are well aware that many, if not most, of their drivers speak English as a second language — they recently lost a court case trying to escape TfL’s new English testing rules for private hire drivers — yet their contract is almost unintelligible.”
Fields added, “And [Uber’s contract], like Deliveroo’s, contains this egregious clause about not challenging the official designation of ‘self-employed’, when the way they work looks in most ways an awful lot like being employed.
“These companies parade the ‘flexibility’ their model offers to drivers but it seems the only real flexibility is enjoyed by the companies themselves. It does seem a marvellous business model if you can get away with it.”
Unite assistant general secretary, Steve Turner, called on the government to introduce measures that would curb the exploitation of gig-economy workers.
He said, “For many of these workers eking out a living in the gig-economy, it’s a world of insecure work and casualised labour. But instead of a tap on the shoulder or the brass tally of the docks from decades ago, workers are left waiting for a text or the beep of an app to know if they have work. “We cannot turn the clock back to the Victorian era. The government needs to put a floor underneath all workers’ rights. Otherwise living standards will fall and peoples’ working lives become increasingly insecure.”