PARIS – Aymen Arfaoui tied a Uber Eats plastic bag and checked on his mobile phone the fastest bike path before pedaling in the flow of cars surrounding the Place de la République. The time, it was money, and Mr. Arfaoui, a nervous migrant of 18, needed money.
"I do it because I have to eat," he said, blocking a course that could save him a few minutes during his first delivery of the day. "It's better than stealing or begging on the street."
Mr. Arfaoui has no working papers and he would pocket a little more than half of the winnings of this day. He said that he owed the rest to a French mail-courier who considered the conditions of Uber Eats too cheap – 3.50 euros (just under $ 4) per order plus a little for the mileage – to do the job itself.
The Parisian courier outsourced the work illegally to Mr. Arfaoui, who lived in a car abandoned for a month after his arrival from Tunisia. The teenager migrant declared that he had earned 17 euros that day for four hours of work.
Food delivery has become a multibillion dollar affair, as does the American giant Uber, the London-based distribution platform, Deliveroo, and its ambitious rivals are fighting to conquer markets and consumers. But competition has reduced mail wages, prompting some to take advantage of the most desperate job seekers.
In France, where food delivery is a growing trend, some couriers registered on such applications rent their accounts. Alternate cyclists are often clandestine migrants, asylum seekers and underage teenagers willing to work long hours at low wages, regardless of traffic or weather, according to groups of French workers and humanitarian organizations, some companies and interviews with more than a dozen runners and activists. migrants.
Messengers negotiate this type of business on the street or through discussions on Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram, and realize a 30-50% reduction in profits. Many runners and migrants spoke under the guise of anonymity given the nature of the work.
So far, there has been little activity among the approximately 20,000 food delivery couriers in France. Companies have abandoned dozens of motorcyclists discovered as part of black market operations. But companies and regulators are facing new complaints regarding another sign of exploitation in the entertainment economy.
"These jobs have become more precarious," said Jean-Daniel Zamor, president of the Collectif des deliveryreurs indépendants in Paris, a group that deals with labor issues for smugglers. "The fact that there is less money on the platforms has pushed the poor to outsource to even poorer people than them."
Uber Eats and his competitors, including Stuart, a French app, and Glovo, based in Spain, said they were aware of their reprehensible behavior. "We are concerned because these are illegal practices in which people take advantage of the vulnerability of others," said Nicolas Breuil, Global Marketing Manager at Stuart.
The labor inspector of Nantes, one of the largest cities in France, opened an investigation. Stuart and Deliveroo reported having spoken with French ministries to detect and prevent possible abuses.
Deliveroo said in a statement that he had "a zero tolerance approach on this issue" and took it "extremely seriously, including a thorough investigation into any concerns that may arise."
Alexandre Fitussi, managing director of Glovo in France, said smugglers who spoke to undocumented migrants had created their own operating system. "It's a big problem," he said, adding that at least 5 percent of his 1,200 weekly deliverers had been illegally discovered in France.
Conditions are ripe in other European countries for similar exploitation of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers, and the problem has been reported in Britain and Spain.
Until recently, food delivery services were barely seen in France, where sit-down meals were a cultural totem. This changed in 2015 when Deliveroo began offering catering menus at bistros and fast food restaurants. Uber Eats and other delivery applications have followed.
The platforms have attracted thousands of workers, particularly high-unemployment French suburbs, as well as students. But the messengers who spoke with the New York Times now say that companies are hiring more motorcyclists and their wages are getting worse. Couriers are required to apply as independent contractors so that companies can avoid the expenses and taxes associated with working full time.
Deliveroo has faced strikes in France after changing its rate of pay in 2017 from a fixed hourly rate plus a commission to a lump sum of € 5 to € 5.75 per delivery. Uber Eats riders held limited strikes at last year's World Cup soccer tournament to protest what they said were low wages and poor working conditions.
Businesses are challenging the demands on worsening wages.
Uber Eats said that smugglers in France earned on average between 10 and 15 € per hour during rush hour, from 11:30 to 14:00. and from 7 to 10 pm Deliveroo and Stuart said that their riders earned on average 13 euros per hour. Glovo said that his letters earned about 10 euros by the hour.
Messengers said in interviews that official rates did not always reflect what they were carrying home. They described a system in which compensation for food distribution platforms had dropped 25% or more in recent years, creating incentives to outsource.
Although companies talk about their social responsibility policies, they always make a profit, no matter who makes the deliveries, they said.
"Every year, we earn less, we deliver less," said Florent, a runner in his twenties who agreed to identify himself by his first name. "They change the conditions by cutting wages or changing payment rules."
Florent said that he had worked for three food delivery applications and that he was now leasing his identity on every application to undocumented workers for a 30% reduction in their salary. Florent was contacted by the Times via Facebook, which he and others use to peddle their accounts.
Youssef El Farissi, 18, based in Avignon, said he had rented his Uber Eats account to a dozen undocumented workers last month. Six of his friends were doing the same thing with different platforms.
"If it was better paid, everyone would stay on their own and work," he said.
As migrants continue to flee Africa and the Middle East, the asylum-seeker population in France continues to grow without government scrutiny. Migrants interviewed by The Times as part of this article stated that they needed work and that riding a bicycle, even at precarious conditions, was preferable to more harmful ways of earning money. like selling drugs.
French labor law allows independent contractors to subcontract to legal workers, but Uber Eats, Stuart and Glovo have declared a ban on subcontracting. Deliveroo said that its riders could outsource to people with working papers and carry out spot checks and searches of mail data. "If a rider subcontracts to an individual without the right to work, we would immediately terminate his contract," the company said.
Uber Eats said that he did not tolerate illegal work or minors and that 100 employees in France were performing unannounced checks. Glovo tracks driving time to identify suspicious behavior. Stuart conducts regular inspections and says he has discovered at least a dozen illegal substitutes a month.
Mr. Arafoui, the young migrant, said that he had few alternatives. Leaving a troubled economy in Tunisia, he boarded a boat in September with hundreds of other passengers from Libya. He landed in Italy, he said, and hid on trains to France. He can ask for asylum.
"I met a guy who had rented me his Uber Eats account for € 100 a week," said the teenager's soft and superficial voice. He stated that he worked up to 13 hours a day, about 200 euros a week.
Mr. Arafoui's dream is to work as a fishmonger. "It's less dangerous work than this one, where you have to deliver right now and hurry to the next place," he said. But that would require working papers that he had not yet.
"Being a runner is easier," he added. "Nobody checks your identity, and you can find an account very quickly."