EIGHT out of 10 food delivery couriers in Scotland feel “unsafe” at work but carry on out of financial necessity, a study has found. 

The study, led by Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, surveyed 207 couriers in cities across Scotland.

It found that more than 60% had experienced racial or ethnic abuse and 55% had suffered physical abuse, largely as a result of incidents while on the road.

The two-year study also found that all of the 33 women surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment or abuse while at work.

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Dr Pedro Mendonca, who led the study, said: “Our findings shed light on the reality food delivery couriers have to confront on a daily basis.

"A significant number are migrants who face multiple barriers as well as daily abuse and a lack of opportunities to find alternative employment in safer environments.

“It’s imperative to understand the nuanced reality in this sector so that we can address challenges and ensure equal protection for all workers.”

The report includes first-hand accounts from couriers, with one quoted as saying: “I’m constantly being threatened by people, not only customers but on the road. It’s like they see a guy with a delivery bag and they constantly give me grief.”

In a sector where migrants account for a significant portion of employees, the study found half of those surveyed said food delivery was their primary income source, and that it is hard for many workers to find alternative careers due to issues such as qualification recognition and language barriers.

Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, said: “This report shines a light on the galling abuse suffered by food delivery couriers which cannot be allowed to go unchecked.

“To read that all women surveyed had experienced sexual harassment or abuse, with 81% of couriers overall feeling fundamentally unsafe in their work, is inexcusable and requires urgent action from government.

“These workers need protection. If we are to become a Fair Work Nation by 2025, the exploitative, abusive practices this vital research highlights must be purged.”

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The study, Fair Gig Work: A review of Employment Practices in the Scottish Food Delivery Work 2024, was funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and also involved researchers from the University of Strathclyde and Nottingham Trent University.