Food delivery workers have expressed fears the coronavirus could land them with serious financial problems, with one saying they would be willing to work if they contracted the illness to ensure they were not left out of pocket.
Couriers at companies including Deliveroo and Uber Eats are classed as self-employed and are not usually entitled to statutory sickness or holiday pay.
Both companies said they would give special compensation for delivery workers that fell ill with Covid-19, though neither was able to say exactly how much would be paid.
Some riders told the PA news agency they were concerned about their potential exposure to the virus by nature of their work delivering food to different locations.
Greg Howard, a Deliveroo driver, told PA the coronavirus outbreak had exposed a “crisis where those in the gig economy are denied basic rights such as sickness pay, holiday leave and national minimum wage”.
Deliveroo said it would introduce a fund for affected riders offering in excess of the current £92.45 per week rate of statutory sick pay, though was unable to give the exact amount.
A number of the company’s riders told PA they would typically earn between £300 and £500 a week when working.
One courier who works for both Uber and Deliveroo said he may continue to work even if he had a cough or a fever because he needed the money.
The 49-year-old, whose identity PA has chosen to protect, said: “I have to work. I would probably take some precautions and probably go out and work still, but cover up and use some sanitisers and that sort of stuff.
“I would maybe go ‘right, I’m starting to feel a bit ill, I’ll do three days’ work, earn £300, that’ll last me a week’ and then I’d just go off work.”
Mr Howard, 32, who is also secretary of the couriers branch of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, said losing pay “would leave me in serious financial hardship, like it would any of my colleagues… we’re living on the breadline as self-employed couriers”.
Mick Rix, national officer at the GMB union, said: “Coronavirus is a massive workplace issue for employers and workers across the UK. But for those in the so-called gig economy the problems are particularly acute. They face being left destitute and deserted.
“They are left with an impossible choice between do the right thing, self-isolate and protect the public – or feeding their families and putting a roof over their heads.”
He also called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to provide a “workers’ support fund” in Wednesday’s Budget, adding: “No self-employed worker, no one in the gig economy and no one on a zero hours contract should have to choose between the wellbeing of their family and the health of the nation.”
A spokesman for Deliveroo said the company would “continue to explore other ways in which riders can be supported”.
Andrew Macdonald, senior vice president at Uber, said: “We are always working to help ensure the safety of our employees and everyone on the Uber platform, and we continue to be concerned by the ongoing spread of coronavirus.
“We are supporting drivers and couriers who are diagnosed with Covid-19 or placed in quarantine by a public health authority. Drivers and couriers in these situations will receive compensation for a period of up to 14 days.
“This has already begun in some markets and we are working to implement mechanisms to do this worldwide. We believe this is the right thing to do.”
Both Deliveroo and Uber have been providing information to couriers over recent days advising how to maintain hygiene levels, including instructions not to work if they are exhibiting symptoms.