Food Couriers Strike in Moscow

cs-2Food couriers striking outside the offices of Delivery Club in Moscow on June 5, 2020. Photo by Mitya Lyalin. Courtesy of RTVI

“Bring Back the Old Rules”: Couriers at Delivery Club in Moscow Strike
RTVI
June 5, 2020

Couriers at the food delivery service Delivery Club in Moscow held a strike on June 5. According to them, working conditions at the company have recently taken a turn for the worse. For example, the company has started giving couriers long-distance orders, as well as frequently fining them. The workers walked out in protest. Our correspondent followed the industrial action and listened to the protesters’ demands.

Around forty couriers, nearly all of them wearing the company’s bright green raincoats, came to Delivery Club’s offices this afternoon. The couriers did not chant slogans. They wanted to speak with company management. Although they were not deterred by heavy rain and waited for over two hours, no one from Delivery Club management came out to speak with them.

In a conversation with RTVI, one of the protesters expressed his dismay.

“We have gathered here to get them to cancel the excessive fines against us. Take me: I deliver on foot. I used to get orders within a three-kilometer range, but now they’ve been sending me as far away as five kilometers. Think for yourself how a foot courier can walk so many kilometers and how long that takes,” he said.

According to him, this can cause him to arrive an hour late to a customer’s home or office.

“Then the customer gives us a funny look. But if we fail to take the orders, the company fines us,” he explained.

“Courier Strike at Delivery Club.” TV 360° live-streamed the June 5 industrial action in Moscow.

Another courier said that he and his fellow strikers wanted the company to go back to the old rules, under which workers were able to make all their deliveries on time and none of them was fined.

“Delivery drivers make 3,000 to 5,000 rubles [approx. 40 to 65 euros] for 14 to 16 hours of work, if they do 30 orders. Foot couriers make three to three and half thousand rubles max. At the end of our shifts, management can issue six or seven fines. Each fine amounts to 300 rubles, so that comes to 1,800 rubles [approx. 23 euros],” another young man said.

The couriers say that in the past, when orders were issued within the areas where they chose to work, they were always on time, because they knew, for example, where they could shorten their routes.

“We had everything worked out. Now the situation has changed. We bring people cold food, and I don’t think Delivery Club wants its reputation to suffer. I would like to go back to the old rules,” a female courier said.

The delivery drivers also have problems. They told RTVI about Delivery Club’s clumsy system for compensating their petrol costs. For example, they can be ordered to pick up food from a restaurant far away from their original location, but Delivery Club does not compensate them for their travel there. They are compensated only for travel from the restaurant to the customer, which, according to them, is a small amount of money.

On June 4, TV 360° aired this short but informative report about the upcoming strike.

The couriers coordinated their actions in community Telegram chats. A day before the strike, the Telegram channel Rasstriga, citing one of the couriers, reported the upcoming strike, forcing Delivery Club to announce that they were verifying the report. A spokesperson for the company said that during the period of self-isolation there had been more orders, and consequently the average earnings of their couriers and drivers had increased.

cs-1A striking Delivery Club courier speaking to reporters. Photo by Mitya Lyalin. Courtesy of RTVI

The same day, a video message from couriers in the Moscow suburb of Khimki was posted on Rasstriga. One of the speakers compared the work of delivery drivers to that of taxi drivers. According to him, they had to travel all over the city.

“We all have families, and we all have children to feed as well,” another courier added.

On the morning of June 5, Delivery Club issued a statement saying that the dissatisfaction of couriers could have been sparked by an experiment with increasing the size of delivery areas. However, the company added, the test was only carried out for a few days, and was terminated before there were reports of an impending strike. Now, according to the company, all unfair fines for couriers had been canceled, and the company had begun returning money previously paid in fines to the couriers.

Ivan Weiss, the head of the Union of Couriers of Russia, also spoke about the problems of delivery people. In a conversation with TV 360°, he said that many couriers and drivers were fined unfairly.

Weiss gave an example.

“A person starts work at 2:15 p.m., and they already have several unfulfilled orders from 2:05 p.m., and so they end up getting fined 1,500 rubles. There is no limit to the indignation a person feels when they need to earn this money.”

Weiss also spoke about the expanded delivery areas. According to him, a foot courier can be asked to pick up an order five or six kilometers away. Weiss also said that while he supported the couriers at Delivery Club, holding an outdoor protest during the self-isolation period could backfire on them.

Translated by the Russian Reader. If you want to learn more about the lives of food delivery people in Russia’s major citiesd, check out the recent photo reportage, “In the Imperial City,” by the well-known Petersburg documentary photographer Mikhail Lebedev, who has gone to work as a courier during the pandemic, and journalist Yana Kuchina, published by Takie Dela on May 24, 2020. Here’s a sneak preview.

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“Since the beginning of the self-isolation regime, the number of couriers has increased more than fivefold. Every day, 50 to 100 new people appear on the delivery chat. People are losing their jobs, and the delivery service is the easiest way to find a new source of income.”

There Is Power in a Union

fart and laugh.jpg“Farting and laughing are healthy.” A life-affirming message photographed by me on the Langenscheidtbrücke in Berlin-Schöneberg, 16 June 2019.

It’s funny to read one of the most celebrated, successful Russian-to-English translators in the world complaining that an equally celebrated, successful scholar of Russian history wrote a less than glowing profile of a famous writer whose works they have translated and published to great acclaim and universal gratitude, and calling for an online campaign against the famous scholar and their allegedly retrograde views.

It’s funny because there is a whole other world of less celebrated, less acclaimed translators who have other, more mundane problems to deal with, such as getting paid fairly for their work or, sometimes, getting paid at all, and having their work stolen by unscrupulous publishers and other clients.

Just minutes ago, I was informed that the people who shanghaied me yesterday (Saturday) into consulting and commenting on someone else’s (extraordinarily bad) translation of a text and asked me to do this before Monday would not pay me the modest fee of 105 euros I asked for two and half hours of intense work commenting on the very bad translation of the odious text they sent me. They want to pay me 32 euros per the number of characters in the source text, although I made it clear that were this an ordinary translating or proofreading job, my minimum fee would be 40 euros in any case.

photo_2019-06-15_10-45-35If you read Russian you will understand why I was extremely dispirited to consult on a wretched translation of this source text with no notice and basically no deadline this past weekend. And then the people who asked me to do this thought it should cost them next to nothing.

A few weeks ago, I was perusing the memoirs of a famous anti-Putin dissident, translated into English and published, nearly two years ago, by the world’s largest general-interest paperback publisher.

I was curious to see who translated the book, but no translator is identified by name anywhere in the book. Oddly, however, the publishers had included a plainly false statement in the front matter: “The moral rights of the translators have been asserted.”

How could that be if none of them was identified by name? How could that be if one of them, as it turned out, to my surprise, was me?

You see, I translated a book of memoirs by the same author a few years ago. The book was never published, however, supposedly, because of a nasty conflict with the publisher.

Now, however, this new book has been published (to great acclaim, of course) and, while it is mostly a new book, whoever really wrote it or ghost-wrote it or edited it has inserted chunks of my old, previously unused translation into the new book.

I have not gone through the book with a pencil yet to underline and figure out how many such passages there are, but they are there.

In what sense, then, were my or anyone else’s “moral rights” “asserted”? Neither they nor I was identified in any way as being among the translators. I was not paid by the publisher for my work. I was not sent a copy of the book by the publisher.

The same publisher, by the way, had to be forced by the organizing committee of a prestigious literary prize for books about Russia to send me copies of a book I translated that was awarded the prize last year.

In the front matter of this book, I am clearly identified as the translator. I am also identified as the copyright holder of the translation published therein. But until last year, when I won the prize, I had never seen a copy of the book.

Nor has the world’s most powerful English-language publisher ever contacted me about royalties, although per our contract they are owed to me. I am reasonably sure a decent amount of royalties have piled up by now. Even if they haven’t, they should give me an accounting.

I would say I really have them coming given that both the world’s most powerful English-language publisher and the US publisher that sold them my translation for a song after having pleaded poverty and paid me a miserable fee themselves refused to send me copies of the book. They only did so after pressure was brought to bear on them by influential outsiders.

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I would call on more celebrated translators to band together with less celebrated translators to defend the rights of translators great and small.

What I wrote at the beginning of this post was probably wrong. I would be irritated, too, if a celebrated scholar wrote a damning review of a writer whose work I promoted by producing the very best translations of it I possibly could.

But there are translators whose work is ripped off and left unpaid. It comes with the territory, but it shouldn’t. Translators worldwide should organize national and international unions to ensure the fair treatment of translators and their work by publishers and other people who commission translations. When publishers and other clients step way out of line, these unions could intercede forcefully and effectively on behalf of their members.

As it is right now when clients try and throw me under the bus, I either raise a ruckus on my lonesome or I lump it. I usually do both, usually to no effect. Since many outsiders to the craft do not deem translation “real work” anyway, they are only too happy not to pay you for your efforts.

There is power in a union, however, and there really is strength in numbers. {Thomas Campbell, the editor of the Russian Reader and other blogs since 2007, and a freelance translator since 1996}

P.S. Out of curiosity, I just counted (with a little help from WordPress) the number of words I have published on this website since I launched it in 2007: 1,409,036. Apparently, the median length of a book is 64,000 words. In the last twelve years, then, I have translated (mostly) and written the equivalent of twenty-two books and published them on this website.

Discussing the rates professional translators charge, Job Monkey writes, “The average rate per word is 10 to 20 cents, depending on the type of document to be translated, the language combination, the amount of work involved, the subject matter and the deadline.”

For the sake of the argument, let’s forget all other factors and pay me ten imaginary cents per word for my work on the Russian Reader. If someone were to pay me, the bill would be a hefty $140,903.60.

This is not taking into account the work I did on a website that mostly eclipsed the Russian Reader for over five years, Chtodelat News (740 posts between February 18, 2008, and May 4, 2013) and the work I still do, not often enough, on my “relaxation” blog about Finland, Living in FIN, which mostly functions as a platform for my translations of modern Finnish poetry. 

Of course, I don’t expect anyone to pay me $140,000 or even a fraction of it for work I made myself do, but even things that are not bought and paid have value. So, it is all the more vital that when translators (all of whom, in my experience, do a lot of pro bono work for good causes) are paid fairly and promptly when they work for money.

Finally, you can support the work I do on this website by looking in the left sidebar, where you will PayPal and Ko-Fi donation buttons. I appreciate all the support I get from my fellow Russian readers. It is what keeps me going.