Food delivery workers across Russia staged a five-day strike
on December 20-25, organized under the banner of the Courier trade union. According to organizers, around 3,800 delivery workers participated in the strike, which covered more than 15 cities.
Striking workers leveled their demands at Russia's tech giant Yandex, whose food delivery service, Yandex.Eats, secured a virtual monopoly over the country’s food delivery market after acquiring
its main competitor, Delivery Club, in September 2022.
Among other things, deliverers, almost all of whom work on a self-employed basis, called for the introduction of labor contracts with Yandex, as well as improved wages and working conditions.
During the strike, thousands of delivery workers refused to take orders through the Yandex.Eats mobile app, leading to disruptions for the service in several cities. The Courier union also called on strikers to “sabotage the work” of restaurants that partner with Yandex by forming lines and blocking cash registers to customers.
The demand for food delivery services in Russia has increased massively in recent years, especially during the Covid pandemic as the country went into lockdown. Since Yandex’s acquisition of Delivery Club, workers have complained
of wage decreases, from RUB 110 (USD 1.62) per order to around RUB 70 (USD 1.03).
Like other digital platforms in Russia, Yandex says
that its food delivery workers are autonomous self-employed “partners” or individual entrepreneurs. This means workers are fully responsible for any risks and expenses that come with the job. Likewise, it means an absence of just-cause conditions for termination, and so Yandex can block deliverers from using its Eats app without providing prior warning or an explanation.
For this reason, the Courier union insists
on the introduction of labor contracts between Yandex and the food delivery workers it depends on for generating profits. Union leaders argue that contracts can guarantee workers that they will not be fired without explanation, will be offered sick leave, and their wages will be indexed against inflation.
Meanwhile, as work conditions have worsened, revenues
for the food-tech department of Yandex, which includes Yandex.Eats, as well as the online shopping service Yandex.Market, rose by 124% year-on-year in the third quarter of 2022, up to RUB 9.8 billion (USD 135 million). These rising revenues are notable given the fact that Russia is under heavy Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine. Yandex itself was not directly sanctioned by the West, but some top managers were (see the Russia.Post article
on Yandex by Nikolay Petrov).
In response to the strike action, Yandex launched a disinformation campaign
against striking workers, in some cases claiming
that they already enjoy high wages, while in other cases flat out denying
the fact that a strike was under way. Despite the company’s anti-union tactics, the strike, which began with around 600 people in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, ballooned in size, spreading to other major cities across Russia and uniting more workers than Courier union organizers had expected.
As with most other forms of independent political activity in Russia, there has been a marked decline in large-scale labor organization over the past two decades. Part of the reason is that the state has co-opted official trade unions that inherited Soviet-era traditions. Today, these organizations serve largely to deliver favors and are frequently accused of siding with employers or the government in labor disputes.
Yet another reason, as the sociologist, Jeremy Morris, who does research on labor organization in Russia, told me in an interview is that draconian labor laws adopted in the early 2000s make it difficult to form unions and organize strikes legally. But even so, “just because you legislate against labor conflict doesn’t make it magically disappear,” he said.
Indeed, grassroots organizations have sometimes filled the space
that official unions refuse to occupy. Many of these independent unions have been much smaller in membership numbers since they are usually formed on a professional basis, such as among autoworkers. They are also highly vulnerable to pressure and persecution from the state. In 2018, for example, authorities went after
the Interregional Trade Union, known for its high-profile strikes at a Ford plant near Saint Petersburg, by dissolving the union under the country's “foreign agents” law, the first time the law was used against such an organization.