Around 40 undocumented migrants who worked for the French delivery service Stuart during the coronavirus lockdown were dismissed after the restrictions were eased. While the company says it’s complying with the law, the workers claim Stuart knew it was employing undocumented foreigners.
Earlier this month, French weekly magazine L'Obs revealed that 24 undocumented delivery workers were dismissed overnight by Stuart, a French delivery services company. A subsidiary of La Poste, the French postal company, Stuart is a delivery logistics platform that caters to restaurants, supermarkets and independent shops. The workers told L’Obs they were fired because they did not have valid papers.
After the October 13 publication of the article in L’Obs, the company fired other foreign employees. "There are about 40 of us in this situation, and the layoffs continue to this day," Mamadou, a 29-year-old Senegalese man, told InfoMigrants.
Mamadou had been working for Stuart since May 2019 when, on September 29, he received an email from the company informing him that his account had been deactivated. The young man can no longer connect to the app that enabled him to accept deliveries. Stuart informed him that his identity documents did not provide him with the right to employment in France. He was removed from the platform without further explanations.
‘They exploited us in the midst of a health crisis’
Mamadou denounced what he called the company’s hypocrisy. "When I signed up on Stuart, I used my Senegalese passport. From the start, they knew I was a foreigner," he explained. But the situation started to change after France emerged from a strict nationwide coronavirus lockdown in May.
"At the end of the lockdown, Stuart had already asked me to resend my identity documents, which I did. But they didn't cut off my access to the application," he said.
During the one and a half years that he worked for the company, Mamadou made 1,845 deliveries. He told InfoMigrants: "I delivered flowers, medicines, products from [the French supermarket] Monoprix or McDonald's,..." The young Senegalese man worked 10 hours a day, even during lockdown. "They exploited us in the midst of a health crisis and now they're kicking us out," he said, disillusioned.
The dismissed workers turned to the group CLAP (Collectif des Livreurs Autonomes de Paris), which works with independent delivery workers in the Paris region.
'Stuart pretends not to know...but how is this possible?'
"Undocumented workers became the foot soldiers of these companies. Without them, there would have been no deliveries during the lockdown. Those who were working legally stopped coming to work because they received aid," explained Jérôme Pimot, CLAP co-founder and spokesman. "Stuart pretends not to know that the company was illegally employing undocumented workers, but how is this possible when the majority provided a foreign passport when they registered?"
When questioned about this by news agency AFP, Stuart explained that the company had "no choice but to comply with the law once the frauds were brought to attention."
"Stuart systematically checks the identity papers and residence permits of the platform's delivery partners," the company said.
The wave of layoffs in recent weeks was linked to the implementation of a "computer tool for document authentication, capable of detecting forgeries invisible to the naked eye" in April, it explained.
Undocumented workers fighting for regularization
The case is similar to the experience at another food delivery platform, Frichti. Around 200 undocumented delivery personnel started a protest movement in June after being fired, shortly after the lockdown was lifted. Half of them managed to initiate a regularization process with the police prefecture, with the support of the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail) union.
Stuart's dismissed delivery personnel also intend to obtain their regularization. Last week, CLAP requested an interview with Stuart representatives. The company agreed to receive undocumented workers individually, citing restrictions due to COVID-19. "They tell us they don't have a room that can accommodate four people," explained Pimot, who fears that undocumented workers could feel pressured if they have to meet individually with Stuart management.
While waiting for an interview with the unions to be finally scheduled, the fired Stuart workers and CLAP intend to keep up the pressure, including protests near the company's headquarters in the 17th arrondissement of Paris.