Drivers who deliver food and drink for Just Eat have been fired after being misdirected by a cut-price GPS system, according to the union representing them.
The couriers, who work for Stuart, a company that supplies drivers to some of Britain’s biggest restaurant and retail names, told the Observer they were fired by pro-forma email after being mislocated by the GPS system or straying from impossible or dangerous routes.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) says there are dozens of couriers for Stuart in cities across the country, from Exeter to Leeds, who have lost their jobs this way. Those who spoke to Observer described their suffering from this treatment and their anxiety about their ability to pay rent, bills and basic expenses as the cost of living continues to rise.
Alex Marshall, president of the IWGB, said the cases were “among the most egregious examples of a gig economy that is increasingly squeezing workers as much as possible and then dumping them without any accountability.
“The decision to use this GPS system is to reduce costs for Stuart, but the ramifications for couriers are huge,” he suggested.
“People lose their livelihoods in an instant and those who are still working put their lives at risk.” Evidence shared with Observer suggests that Stuart brought his GPS system in-house as a cost-cutting measure and is aware of the issues.
In a direct message conversation on Twitter, shared with the Observer, a senior Stuart executive can be seen saying to a courier, “Stuart has an in-house built route service and it’s not great. We used to use directions from google maps but they multiplied the price by 10.”
When the courier replies “people are being fired for supposedly deviating from routes and you just said that’s wrong”, the manager acknowledges: “it’s not perfect yes [sic].”
Until May, Adnan Odawa, 35, worked full-time for the Stuart app, starting each day at McDonald’s in Sutton Coldfield. On a Tuesday morning, he cycled the 10-mile journey from his home in Birmingham as usual, pulling out his phone on arrival to log into the app as he had done for three years. But that morning, he received a new message: his account had been terminated and his access to the platform blocked.
In a pro-forma email seen by the ObserverStuart told Odawa that several of his deliveries were “flagged for significant delays caused by excessive detours,” including three order numbers listed in the email.
Odawa didn’t recognize two and the third was related to a job where he arrived on time and made the delivery but, he says, the in-app GPS mislocated the address, l ‘forcing you to walk almost a mile in the wrong place. to mark the job as complete. “I was shocked,” he said. “I thought, ‘If you have a problem with me for the first time in three years, you could at least message me and let me know.'”
For Odawa, giving in to GPS was the only option. The app includes a chat function for couriers to troubleshoot issues during the shift, but when Odawa used it before, he had to wait for up to an hour, unable to reach a human.
Screenshots shared with the Observer show the couriers similarly pleading their cases to the chatbot, which repeatedly responds, “No worries, an agent will take it from here” and, “This is an automated message, please don’t reply” before their ask to rate the conversation by clicking on an emoji.
After his employment ended, Odawa repeatedly emailed Stuart, but only received standardized emails in return, stating that his request for reinstatement had been denied and the decision was final.
Marshall said the IWGB had investigated 55 cases since March 2021 and in most cases couriers had not had the opportunity to review the decision with human involvement.
An online appeal form was introduced at the end of 2021 after the union campaign, but it says dismissals will only be considered when couriers can provide “objective evidence” that they were not at fault. Stuart can legally terminate couriers without warning or cause as they are classified as independent contractors and not employees.
Screenshots and photographs shared with the Observer shows a driver in Plymouth being routed through a construction site, with warning signs visible, and a driver in south-east London sent through a road closure. Others show a driver in east London being told to break traffic rules by turning right despite a no right turn sign.
Although less known than Deliveroo or Uber, Stuart – a subsidiary of the parcel company DPD – is a major player in the gig economy. It is active in more than 100 cities around the world, including in the United Kingdom as a subcontractor for Just Eat in England and Wales. Just Eat declined to comment.
Sandeep Salgotra, 36, worked full-time with Stuart at Leicester until he was made redundant in April due to ‘GPS blocking and manipulation’. Prior to his dismissal, he claims he received a number of warnings about the problem, which he did not understand, as he found no problem with his GPS connection.
When Stuart didn’t answer his questions, he said, he switched network providers. When the warnings continued he spent £1,500 on a new phone but nothing changed. Eventually he received an answer from Stuart, seen by the Observer, telling her, “You don’t have to worry about being flagged at this point…So far so good with your status.” Two weeks later, he says, he was fired.
“It was really painful and I’m struggling; I support my family because my wife is not working,” Salgotra said. “I have never done anything wrong in my life. I don’t understand why Stuart treats us this way.
Other couriers who spoke to the Observer after being fired for routing and GPS reasons, they also described confusion over the cause of their dismissals and frustration with the company’s refusal to respond to messages or engage in discussion.
A courier says he sent several emails to Stuart explaining that his phone connection was sometimes interrupted in the rural area where he delivered, but received no response. An appeal he filed in February has so far gone unanswered, he says.
Another messenger received a termination email citing ‘GPS manipulation’ while in hospital recovering from a car accident the previous night. His subsequent emails, which included photos of his written-off motorcycle, went unanswered.
Marshall said the dismissed couriers were “undoubtedly supposed to be acting fraudulently and being denied a fair and proper process.” Many new couriers are migrant workers recently arrived in an area who need the GPS system and are therefore vulnerable to its flaws, he points out.
The union says GPS issues are just one of many concerns for Stuart couriers, some of whom are engaged in the gig economy’s longest strike over pay and conditions. Earlier in the strike, Stuart had agreed to resolve an issue that had resulted in the unfair dismissal of couriers whose insurance details had been incorrectly recorded by the company.
A spokesperson for Stuart said the company “takes the issue of courier offshoring very seriously”, adding: “We cannot comment on individual cases publicly, but we only make the decision to disconnect when we We have plenty of evidence to support our decision, bar none.
They added: ‘Stuart operates an appeals process which is followed in all cases an appeal is submitted.
For couriers, the effects of terminations are profound. “I had to tell my kids we can’t go anywhere this year, we’re just staying in England,” said father-of-three Odawa.
“[Stuart] act as if we were nothing; they just stop responding and continue.