A Uber Eats rider passes on a deserted Via del Corso during the emergency blockade of the Coronavirus in Rome, Italy, 26 April 2020 | Photo: ANSA/ANGELO CARCONI
A Uber Eats rider passes on a deserted Via del Corso during the emergency blockade of the Coronavirus in Rome, Italy, 26 April 2020 | Photo: ANSA/ANGELO CARCONI

A Milan court has placed the Uber Italy company in temporary receivership for allegedly exploiting the delivery riders of its Uber Eats service, many of them migrants. Uber Italy is the Italian affiliate of the US group that offers services including peer-to-peer ridesharing and food delivery.

The judges in Milan said that Uber Italy, through intermediary firms, exploited migrants coming from war zones, asylum seekers and people living in temporary hosting centers. The court said the company withheld pay from the riders, threatened them and subjected them to retaliatory actions. The ruling was made on May 29.

Uber Eats is managed by an Italian agency which is part of a Dutch holding company of the Uber group. The riders are not formally employed by Uber but by two other intermediary firms in the logistics sector, Frc and Flash Road City.

The owners of the intermediary firms and Uber managers have been placed under investigation on charges of "illicit intermediation and labor exploitation".

'Those who sleep rough must be kicked out'

The 60-page decree issued by the court said tapped conversations and chat messages between the owners of the two companies and five managers at Uber prove that Uber Italy was aware of the exploitative situation. 

Court documents quote one of the suspects under investigation as saying in a chat message: ''Those who sleep rough, who stink'', who make mistakes (using an expletive) must be kicked out ''immediately''. 

Judges said the messages gives an idea of the "regime of oppression" in place against people willing to do "anything" in order to "survive". 

The Italian branch of the American company was "aware" of the riders' exploitation, according to the judges. It lead the Milan court to take an unprecedented measure against a delivery platform in Italy: placing in temporary receivership Uber Italy. 

Riders paid 'three euros an hour' and 'punished' by withholding money

The riders delivering food were mostly recruited among migrants and asylum seekers in several Italian cities, including Milan, Monza, Turin, Bologna, Rome and Florence.

One rider testified that "my pay was always three euros per delivery no matter what the day or time." 

This occurred despite the fact that the pay riders saw on their app was higher. The judges describe it as ''piece-rate work''. 

Moreover, the court documents said, riders who did not respect the ''rules'' (which are listed in court papers) and complained were subjected to retaliatory actions by their employees.

Riders threatened

Blocking riders' accounts -- the so-called ''malus'' -- meant that part of their pay or tips were withheld. Court papers said these were the punishments and so a rider who carried out ''68 deliveries'' earned ''€204'' after ''exhausting shifts''.

The riders were also threatened, according to tapped conversations reported in the court documents. "I only threatened to come break your head and I repeat it I'll come there and punch you, I'll break you," one of the suspects under investigation said. And a worker said: "I don't remember signing any contract."

Uber Eats said in a statement that it has ''put its platform at the disposal of users, restaurants and riders over the last four years in Italy in the full respect of local legislation. We condemn any form of gangmastering through our services in Italy." 

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