After years of service, hundreds of undocumented deliverymen have been laid off by meal delivery company Frichti in Paris. After the couriers took to the streets, they received public support from different organizations. Now the couriers are asking to return to work and to be regularized.
"We stay here to put pressure on them." Like every day for the past week, around 20 undocumented delivery men met on June 9 in front of the Frichti company's Hub in Paris's 11th arrondissement. The company, which prepares and delivers meals for private individuals, has been facing protests from its deliverymen for several days.
According to its own slogan, Frichti is "the first super-market that has nothing to hide." And yet the majority of the company's couriers are undocumented. "About 85% of the couriers are not legal," Arnaud, a 31-year-old Cameroonian who has been delivering for the platform for more than a year, told InfoMigrants.
"You register directly on the site with a SIRET number [which proves your auto-entrepreneur status] and that's it. A few hours later, you get the employment contract," Arnaud explained. In France, an auto-entrepreneur refers to a "sole trader or one-person business, registered under the entrepreneur's name."
Hundreds of undocumented migrants without resources
But since June 8th, these delivery men, mostly from western Africa, can no longer work for Frichti. A few days prior, the company sent an email to its staff asking them for "a passport from a European Economic Area country, a national identity card or a residence permit" to be able to continue working.
Hundreds of undocumented delivery workers found themselves jobless overnight, some of whom had been working for the platform for more than three years. "They can't claim anything given their administrative status," Kevin Mention, a lawyer for the deliverymen, told InfoMigrants.
According to the demonstrators, the sending of the email coincided with the lifting of the coronavirus lockdown in France.
"Why is this email coming now when we've been working for them for years? Coincidentally, we received this note after the lockdown. They were quite happy that we were working at that time," said Arnaud, who continued to deliver during the health crisis. "Only undocumented migrants were working during that period."
The trouble started after the Libération newspaper published an investigation on June 1 stating that illegal couriers were working for the platform.
'Frichti makes us compete with the other delivery guys'
For Edouard Bernasse of the Collectif des Livraisonurs Autonomes de Paris (CLAP), "it's not surprising that the majority of the delivery people at Frichti or other platforms are undocumented."
"In the beginning, it was mostly young Parisians, students, bike fans, who delivered meals," Bernasse said. "But, with the drop in pay, who would continue to do this kind of work? People who are in dire need, very vulnerable, so a lot of undocumented migrants."
The working conditions at Frichti are harsh. A delivery man is paid €5 per hour and 50 cents per delivery. "The more orders we deliver, the more money we make," said Arnaud. "Frichti makes us compete with the other delivery men."
"If we don't deliver on a rainy day, our rating goes down and we can be banned for several days from the application that enables us to deliver."
Ibrahima, standing in front of the Hub in the 11th arrondissement, said: "I can't take a day off, if I stop working one day they cut me off the next. It's modern slavery," the Senegalese told InfoMigrants.
Wrongdoing calls 'entire system into question'
Demonstrations against the working conditions for undocumented migrants on June 4 and June 8 drew nearly 200 people. Since then, support has been pouring in: the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), the CLAP and MPs from the France Unbowed party have expressed their solidarity with the undocumented deliverymen. All of this compelled the company to respond.
"An audit carried out in early June 2020 revealed that some partners were no longer able to report a legal situation to us," the company pointed out in in a press release, noting that irregularities for a "very small proportion of auto-entrepreneurs carrying out delivery activities for Frichti."
Mention, the deliverymen's lawyer, accused Frichti of "hiding" behind auto-entrepreneurship. "They continue to say that they work with freelancers and that they didn't know their administrative status," said Mention. "They don't want to admit their wrongdoing because that calls their whole system into question."
"They knew very well that we weren't legal, so we gave them our passports from our countries of origin," several delivery men said.
The demonstrators and their lawyer are asking for emergency assistance for the couriers, who are now unable to work, and recognition of their employment contract, a document that will support their requests for regularization. In Europe, regularization means having temporary residence and a work permit.
While waiting for Frichti to act, the undocumented deliverymen remain resolute. "If we are not heard, other actions will be taken, such as blocking the doors of the Hub, thus preventing any deliveries," they said.