Uber, Deliveroo seek to limit virus spread as demand jumps

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The increase in quarantined customers has forced food delivery companies to balance a potential boom in orders alongside the risk of spreading sickness to both customers and drivers.

Both Uber Technologies Inc. and Deliveroo have said they’re setting aside funds to compensate drivers who might fall ill or are forced to be quarantined.

London-based Deliveroo budgeted several million pounds to compensate drivers for lost earnings due to the disease, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because the preparations are private. The company will compensate impacted drivers for 14 days above the U.K. statutory sick pay rate, the person said.

Uber has said it will offer drivers in the U.S., U.K. and Mexico compensation for a period of time if they’re diagnosed with Covid-19 or placed in quarantine, and the company is planning to implement the program worldwide.

In a message sent to U.K. customers, Deliveroo Chief Executive Officer Will Shu said the company was launching a “no-contact” service, letting customers ask drivers to leave their food on doorsteps rather than pass it from one hand to another. Uber said Wednesday that users could leave a note on the app asking for a similar drop off.

The person familiar with Deliveroo’s strategy, due to roll out next week, said riders will also be able to elect a no-contact delivery if they choose.

Deliveroo’s other provisions include ordering hand sanitizer on behalf of drivers, and letting customers in some areas of the U.K. order kitchen and household products from supermarkets via the app.

The workers’ funds have been set up at time when ride-hailing companies are challenging attempts by lawmakers and unions to increase benefits to drivers. In the U.K., the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain has challenged companies such as Uber on whether drivers should be entitled to overtime and holidays.

“If sick pay is the right thing to do in a pandemic when the world is watching, it’s the right thing to do, period,” said Greg Howard, secretary for IWGB’s couriers and logistics branch. “That Deliveroo told the press about this fund before it said a word to its riders is indicative of its priorities.”

In the U.S., Uber and its rivals are also appealing a new law that may end up classifying their workers as employees.

“Our life and health are worth more than a pizza, a sushi or a sandwich,” groups including the Bologna Riders Union wrote in a Facebook post.

Governments have also taken steps to protect gig-economy workers, who are often considered contractors and don’t automatically get access to sick pay or other benefits from the companies they work for. U.K. finance minister Rishi Sunak pledged a 30 billion pound ($39 billion) stimulus package on Wednesday to help fight the impact of the coronavirus, promising statutory payments to everyone who’s been told to self isolate and more generous welfare packages. French labor minister Muriel Penicaud said in an television interview with LCI that the government is reviewing measures to provide financial relief to “precarious” workers hit by the crisis, including food delivery riders.

The data so far is showing that as people spend more time at home, they’re getting take out more often, UBS Group AG analyst Hubert Jeaneau said in a note published Thursday. In Italy, where officials ordered a country-wide lock-down that’s shut nearly everything except grocery stores and pharmacies, customers could still order takeout meals from apps like Deliveroo, Glovo and Just Eat.

Still, that trend could quickly reverse, Jeaneau said. In China, fear of being infected by sick drivers caused many customers to stop using delivery services, with some building complexes halting access to food delivery drivers. Meituan Dianping and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., the two biggest delivery companies, also introduced no-touch delivery to help combat concerns.

“This can turn negative we think, if there are concerns around contact with food preparation and/or riders,” Jeaneau said in the note. Customers may also be out of luck if drivers are taken off the road or restaurants are shut, he said.

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