Bolt Food couriers will this week see their income slashed after the company decided to reduce their peak-time bonus fees by an average of more than 50%.
For non-European couriers, this change will be even more painful since half their income already goes to the fleets which employ them.
The move is likely to force couriers to increase their workload even though they are already stretched to their limit.
“I work at least 70 hours a week, Monday to Sunday, non-stop and I only earn about €1,200 in a month,” one Bolt Food worker from India told Lovin Malta, pointing out that this includes all evenings and weekends since those are peak hours.
“And now I’m going to earn even less because they’re reducing the fee for each delivery and with restaurants being open again, we will have less demand.”
The worker gave Lovin Malta an insight into his daily routine.
“I’m constantly on the road, rushing from one place to another, and when there isn’t an order to deliver, I just wait on my bike for the next one, in all sorts of weather. I could work 10 hours in a day and only make €30,” he said.
Working conditions at Bolt Food have been under the spotlight since the beginning of the year when it emerged that while EU nationals can be self-employed, hundreds of third-country nationals are employed by fleets that take half their income.
The companies supply them with a motorbike and a fuel allowance, which would cost the courier’s less than what they give the fleet if they rented the motorbikes themselves from a rental service.
To make matters worse, the couriers start their journey in considerable debt, paying up to €7,000 for the fleet agencies to get them a work permit in Malta.
“Before you come to Malta, you’re told that you’d be guaranteed €800 per month and you’re likely to make much more. It sounds great because in India we can only make about €300. Once you’re here, you realise that it’s an unsustainable situation, but you have to stay because you owe money. We wouldn’t be told that besides the thousands we pay for a work permit, the fleet will also take half our salary.”
“I live with six other people. I try not to spend a cent in Malta. Maybe once a month I go to a restaurant, and once a quarter we buy some whiskey to share. But other than that I have to save everything because I need to pay for rent, my work-permit loan and additional fuel. I also have to send some money back to my family in India. If I don’t send, there is no point being here away from my wife.”
“We’ve been asking for Bolt Food to add a tipping option in the app because we know people want to tip but sometimes they don’t have cash on them. But they still haven’t implemented this. It’s been more than a year since we’ve been asking.”
“At least when someone cancels an order, we get to keep the food if it’s already been prepared.”
Lovin Malta reached out to Bolt Food for comment. We asked if the company was concerned about the well-being of its workers and whether it was aware of how their bonus cuts would affect them. We also asked why the company never introduced a tipping function and why it worked with fleets that were charging couriers for work permits and then taking half their salaries.
“Bolt is committed to being compliant with any local legislation,” the company said.
“The decision to work with fleets was made because we want to provide couriers with multiple options to deliver on the platform.”
“We believe this optionality is important, and it is always at the courier’s discretion as to whether they work directly with the fleet, or as an independent contractor,” the company said, even though third-country nationals do not have the option to work as independent contractors.
“The necessary steps were also taken to ensure that couriers offering their services through the Bolt platform are never subjected to unfair working conditions,” the company claimed.
“These steps include the establishment of a Charter that all our fleet partners signed.”
Asked about the recent firing of its CEO Sebastian Ripard, Bolt Food said this was “purely an internal shareholder decision and has absolutely nothing to do with any other companies or issues”.
What should be done to address the issue?