According to the union that represents them, drivers who deliver food and drinks to Just Eat have been fired after being tricked by a cheap GPS system.
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 deviating from impossible or dangerous routes.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) claims 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 the Observer described their pain with this treatment and their concerns 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 are “among the most egregious examples of a gig economy pushing more and more workers under as much pressure as possible and then just letting them fall without any accountability.
“The decision to use this GPS system is about cost savings for Stuart, but the implications for couriers are huge,” he suggested.
“People lose their livelihood in an instant and those who are still working are putting their lives on the line.” Evidence shared with the Observer suggests that Stuart has brought its GPS system into its home as a cost-saving measure and that it is aware of problems.
In a direct message conversation on Twitter, shared with the Observer, you see a senior Stuart manager say to a courier, “Stuart has an internally built itinerary and it’s not great. We used to use Google Maps directions, but they’ve increased the price 10x.”
When the courier replies “people are fired for supposedly deviating from routes and you just said it’s not right”, the manager acknowledges: “it’s not perfect yes [sic]†
Until May, Adnan Odawa, 35, worked full-time for the app-based Stuart, starting every day at McDonald’s in Sutton Coldfield. On a Tuesday morning, as usual, he made the 10-mile bike ride from his home in Birmingham, grabbing his phone on arrival to log into the app, as he had done for the past three years. But that morning, he got a new message: his account had been terminated and his access to the platform had been blocked.
In a pro forma email seen by the ObserverStuart told Odawa that several of his deliveries had been “flagged for serious delays caused by excessive detours,” including three order numbers listed in the email.
Odawa didn’t recognize two of them and the third involved a job where he arrived on time and made the delivery, but, he says, the in-app GPS found the address wrong, driving him nearly a mile to the wrong location. cycle to mark the task as completed. “I was shocked,” he said. “I thought, ‘If you have a problem with me for the first time in three years, you can at least message me and let me know.'”
For Odawa, giving in to the GPS was the only option. The app includes a courier chat feature to help resolve issues on duty, but when Odawa used this before, he had to wait up to an hour, unable to reach a human.
Screenshots shared with the Observer show couriers making their case similarly to the chatbot, which repeatedly replies, “Don’t worry, an agent will take over from here” and, “This is an automated message, please don’t reply” before asking them to rate the conversation by clicking an emoji.
After his employment ended, Odawa repeatedly emailed Stuart, but in return only received standardized emails stating that his request for reinstatement had been denied and that the decision was final.
Marshall said the IWGB has been investigating 55 cases since March 2021 and that in most cases couriers were not given a chance to review the decision with human intervention.
An online appeal form was put in place at the end of 2021 following union campaigns, but it says terminations will only be assessed if couriers can provide “objective evidence” that they were not at fault. Stuart can legally fire couriers without warning or reason as they are classified as independent contractors, not employees.
Screenshots and photos shared with the Observer show a driver in Plymouth being guided through a construction site, with warning signs visible, and a driver in south east London being directed through a road closure. Others show a driver in East London being instructed to break traffic rules by turning right despite a no-turn sign.
Though less well-known than Deliveroo or Uber, Stuart – a subsidiary of parcel delivery company DPD – is a leading player in the gig economy. It operates in over 100 cities around the world, most notably in the UK as a subcontractor to Just Eat in England and Wales. Just Eat declined to comment.
Sandeep Salgotra, 36, worked full-time with Stuart in Leicester until he was fired in April for “GPS blocking and tampering”. Prior to his resignation, he claims to have received a number of warnings about the matter, which he did not understand, as he could not find a problem with his GPS connection.
When Stuart didn’t respond to his questions, he says, he switched network providers. When the warnings persisted, he spent £1,500 on a new phone, but nothing changed. Finally, he got a response from Stuart, seen by the Observer, telling him, “You don’t have to worry about getting flagged at this stage… For now, everything is fine with your status.” Two weeks later, he says, he was fired.
“It’s been really painful and I’m having a hard time; I support my family because my wife doesn’t work,” Salgotra said. “I’ve never done anything wrong in my life. I don’t understand why Stuart is treating us like this.”
Other couriers who use the . have spoken Observer after being terminated for routing and GPS reasons, he similarly described confusion about the cause of their terminations and frustration at the company’s refusal to respond to messages or engage in discussions.
A courier says he sent several emails to Stuart explaining that his telephone line sometimes went down 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 courier received an end-of-service email citing “GPS manipulation” while he was recovering in hospital from a traffic accident that occurred during the previous night’s night shift. His subsequent e-mails, with photos of his written-off motorcycle, went unanswered.
Marshall said fired couriers “were unquestionably believed to be acting fraudulently and denied a fair and due process”. Many new couriers are recent migrant workers who are new to an area and who need the GPS system and are therefore vulnerable to its mistakes, he points out.
The union says the GPS problems are just one of many concerns for Stuart’s couriers, some of whom are embroiled in the gig economy’s longest-running strike over pay and benefits. Earlier in the strike, Stuart agreed to resolve an issue that had resulted in the unfair termination of couriers whose insurance records had been incorrectly recorded by the company.
A spokesperson for Stuart said the company “takes the issue of courier off-boarding very seriously”, adding: “We cannot comment publicly on individual cases, but we will only make the decision to go off-board if we have sufficient evidence to support our decision without exceptions.”
They added: “Stuart has an appeals process that is followed in all cases where an appeal is made.”
For the couriers, the consequences of cancellations are profound. “I had to tell my kids we have nowhere to go this year, we’re just staying in England,” said Odawa, a father of three.
†[Stuart] pretend we are nothing; they just stop answering and keep going.”