SAO PAULO: Over a thousand food deliverymen on motorcycles gathered in Sao Paulo on Wednesday (Jul 1) to protest their work conditions, set by Uber and other apps, with their services in high demand due to coronavirus lockdowns.
The drivers seek better pay and improved health measures, with Brazil now a coronavirus epicenter and delivery workers facing exposure to the virus.
Drivers paraded through Sao Paulo's Paulista Avenue, the city's main thoroughfare, blocking traffic in one direction. They complained that the apps are paying them less while making them work more, with possible suspension if they do not comply.
The government said this week that half of working-age Brazilians are out of a job due to the coronavirus crisis, a record level, pushing more and more citizens into precarious employment options.
"They are making us work weekends, every day, or we face the risk of getting blocked," said Felipe Gomes, who delivers for iFood.
It was not the first time delivery workers have taken to the streets to demonstrate against Uber, Colombia's Rappi and Brazil's iFood. But the demonstration appeared to be the biggest to date.
Their working conditions have also drawn the attention of prosecutors, who have launched investigations of all the apps and sued iFood.
The business model has been used by Uber around the world to great controversy and pushback and mimicked by Rappi and iFood. The companies classify drivers as freelancers, insisting the firms are intermediaries between restaurants and the delivery workforce.
They say the apps provide workers with the freedom to set their hours and level of commitment. But workers and prosecutors strongly disagree.
"An algorithm determines everything for them: the value of the work, the duration of their work, even the route they should take, and if you don't accept, there are penalties," said Tatiana Simonetti, a Brazilian labor prosecutor. "From the moment they enroll, they become puppets of the system."
Uber declined to comment. iFood and Rappi said worker demands have been addressed and would not commit to raising pay in response to the pressure. Rappi said most workers receive 18 reais (US$3.38) per hour, although drivers told Reuters they often receive much less.
Rodrigo Gandolfo, iFood's vice-president of logistics, said deliverymen get paid around 20 reais (US$3.77) per hour at the busiest times, such as lunch and dinner.
The protests were to continue into the night, with the delivery workers riding their motorcycles through the city while wearing the branded backpack containers bearing the companies' logos.