Uber Eats in Italy investigated over alleged migrant worker exploitation

Ten people, including a senior operations manager at Uber in Italy, are under investigation over the alleged exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers by the company’s food-delivery arm, prosecutors have said.

According to investigators, the workers were “subjected to degrading work conditions, paid €3 per ride”, and had their tips confiscated.

The case, which focuses on Uber Eats, prompted a Milan court to place Uber Italy in temporary receivership in May for the alleged exploitation of delivery riders.

Prosecutors said the workers were “extremely vulnerable migrants and asylum seekers from conflict areas (Mali, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Pakistan, Bangladesh)”.

It is alleged by prosecutors that a migrant who worked as a rider for one week in May, for a total of 68 hours, earned only €179.50.

“My pay was always €3 per delivery, regardless of the day or the time,” one migrant claimed to prosecutors.

According to Paolo Storari, the prosecutor leading the investigation, riders were also “robbed” of voluntary tips left by some customers. Some migrants were “punished” with an “arbitrary reduction in their compensation if they violated the terms of their agreement”.

The judge who placed Uber Italy into temporary receivership in May highlighted the “strong social isolation in which these migrant workers live”, which he said was seen as “an opportunity to recruit workers at outrageously low cost, given their tendency to do anything to survive, and who are exploited and discriminated against by unscrupulous employers”.

Among the individuals being investigated is the senior operations manager for Uber Italy, Gloria Bresciani.

In wire-tapped comments, Bresciani allegedly said to an employee, “never again say that ‘we have created a system for desperate people’ in front of someone from outside. Even if you think it, you don’t air your dirty laundry in public.”

Among the 10 people under investigation are senior figures of several unidentified intermediary companies that recruited migrant workers for Uber Italy.

According to investigators, the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Lombardy and the subsequent demand for home food delivery resulted in an “uncontrolled avalanche of recruitment” of riders.

Prosecutors say the exploitation was aggravated by “the health emergency, following which the use of riders progressively increased due to restrictions placed on the free movement of individuals” during lockdown.

The company denies exploiting the riders, and in a statement released on Monday said: “In recent months we have worked closely with the judicial authorities to revise and reinforce our service. We will continue to collaborate with the authorities and to fight all forms of illegal intermediation.”

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