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Deliveroo backs off plan to cut pay of UAE delivery riders after strike

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FILE PHOTO: A food delivery worker rides a motorbike to deliver meal orders, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai
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By Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI (Reuters) -Delivery service Deliveroo on Monday put on hold plans to cut pay and extend working hours for its drivers in the United Arab Emirates after a rare strike over the weekend.

The Amazon-backed company said in an email to restaurants, seen by Reuters, that it had paused proposed changes in its rider pay structure and that it would engage with its riders over the weeks and months head.

A day earlier, Deliveroo told restaurants that "riders are striking and refusing to attend their shift or deliver orders" and that it would "protect Deliveroo rider earnings to remain the most competitive in the market".

Human rights groups have criticised the UAE and other Gulf states for their treatment of low-paid migrant workers who make up a large part of the workforce. Migrant drivers comprise Deliveroo's workforce.

A Deliveroo spokesperson confirmed that the company was halting all changes and that it would work with delivery riders to ensure a structure that would work for everyone.

"Our initial intention with the announcement was to propose a more well-rounded structure for rider earnings in addition to other incentives," the Deliveroo spokesperson said without providing details.

"It is clear that some of our original intentions have not been clear and we are listening to riders."

Social media posts on Sunday showed large groups of delivery drivers in teal-coloured Deliveroo uniforms striking in Dubai.

Two Deliveroo riders separately told Reuters the company had sought to cut earnings by about 15% to 8.75 dirhams ($2.38) per delivery and extend shifts by three hours to 12.

Both riders, who said they were employed via agencies, said they had to pay for fuel, housing and employment visas out of their own wages.

It is illegal in the UAE for an employee to pay visa costs.

One rider, a Pakistani, said he worked nine hours a day, seven days a week to earn a monthly take-home salary of 390 dirhams ($106).

The driver said while the pay cut had been scrapped, his current roster continued to show 12-hour daily shifts.

A second Deliveroo representative later said shifts would not be changed and that agencies who employ the riders were obliged to cover visa costs.

The representative added that action would be taken against any agency in breach of contractual obligations but did not provide specifics.

Authorities in the UAE, where independent trade unions and labour strikes are banned, did not respond to requests for comment.

Human rights group Equidem in a statement urged Deliveroo to pay workers a living wage and called on UAE authorities to permit trade unions and not punish workers who go on strike.

In response to the Deliveroo strike, some users on social media called for a boycott of the company while others encouraged people to tip delivery workers. Deliveroo competes in the UAE against Uber-owned Careem, among other services.

($1 = 3.6726 UAE dirham)

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Lina Najem;Editing by Bernadette Baum, Louise Heavens, Jane Merriman and Cynthia Osterman)

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