Stevens, age 28, born in Côte d’Ivoire. 20–25 workdays a month, €900 net earnings.
“I left my country and a family with eight children in 2011. To start with, my ambition was to become a doctor, but I was told that soccer would be a quicker way of helping my family. I played in Tunisia, Sweden, and Greece. Then that last club was hit by the crisis, and I found myself in France. When my wife got pregnant, I had to juggle soccer and deliveries. My daughter was born and I stopped playing soccer to be with her, I wanted to be present at her side. Every day, with 8 to 9 hours of deliveries, we estimated we needed to make at least €100. My personal record? €227. Non-stop from 11:30 in the morning to 10 at night. To move fast, you take risks: ride on the sidewalk, run yellow lights, ride against traffic. Once, I had an unpleasant experience with a restaurant owner who treated me like dirt. I called my customer service and complained, and since then I have been turning down all his deliveries. Before, we had three to four deliveries per hour. One could earn a living. Now, Deliveroo has opened up all the zones: a customer in Clichy can order a meal from Nation. Afterward, they complain that we turn down too many deliveries, but who wants to ride 10km for €4.70? I pay 25% in taxes. When I make €60 net for 10 hours of work in the cold, I tell myself I’d rather spend that time with my daughter. My goal is to build something for my family in Côte d’Ivoire so they aren’t living in poverty when I go and visit. I haven’t been home in eight years.”
Amady, age 28, born in Côte d’Ivoire. 28 workdays a month, €1200 net earnings.
“In Abidjan, I studied business. But my passion was soccer. I’d always wanted to be like Zinedine Zidane and have a professional career in France. I found myself playing in Morocco and thought I could break through, but because of an injury it didn’t work out. I’ve been doing this job for three months now, working as a rider for Deliveroo. It’s a physically demanding job. When it rains, it’s horrible, because it gets very cold. But you must be on time, and your company makes you work weekends, because that’s when the demand is the biggest. Sometimes I get back home at 11 at night; have just enough time to grab a bite and shower; go to bed at 1am, and the next morning it starts all over again. You’re dead tired. Some customers are very nice, will wish you best of luck and give you a tip. But many are very impatient and rude. What gets to you is the way people look at you in the street. Their eyes speak volumes; you can just feel they think you are working a degrading job. Religion? It helps me get through the day, when I feel despondent, or when I have no one to hang out with. My childhood dream has been shattered, but now I have other plans. Man proposes, God disposes.”
Chris, age 25, born in France. 20 workdays a month, €1800 net earnings.
“I was never good at school; I passed my professional Baccalauréat in transportation to please my mother, and I’ve also learned to code and tried doing 42 [a coding school]. I also made some “easy money” and did time. For three years now I’ve been self-employed as a rider for Deliveroo, Uber, and other platforms. I cover 100km a day and work nine-hour days, from 11:30am to 11pm, with a two-hour break. To take a day off you need to give the company 24 hours’ notice, which may be problematic if you hit a last-minute snag, like a delay on RER B if you live just outside the city. To be able to work, you need to get allocated time slots; and to be eligible, you need to have good ratings. This means you can’t miss a day, and you have to be within range of your work zone at the scheduled time. My longest delivery was 10km. Just for the heck of it. The nice thing is that I get to discover every nook and cranny in Paris. In this job, there are a lot of people who subcontract and exploit undocumented workers to do the deliveries for them, while they take a 30 to 50 percent cut. It’s really shameless to be profiting from other people’s misfortune like this. What do I find disheartening? Waiting fifteen minutes for an order outside a restaurant in the rain, losing an hour of work because of the delay, and dealing with employees who won’t even look you in the eye.”
Georges, age 30, born in Belgium. 20 workdays a month, €1300 net earnings.
“I have a Professional Baccalauréat in business and a Brevet de Technicien Supérieur in international commerce. I’m originally from Guinea, but I have lived a bit everywhere: England, Italy, Germany. I’d like to be independent, be my own boss. It was my younger brother who told me about Deliveroo. It’s been a year and a half since I started working for them. It’s a bit complicated because we work every single day, there are no weekends off. Working with customers is fine, but with some restaurant owners, it’s more complicated; we get no respect. They see us as undocumented workers, unwanted and underpaid. My passions? Japanese comic books and tattoos. The swallow I have on my forearm represents freedom. I’d like to travel, and be a freelance app developer somewhere in the world, with an internet connection, and work for customers in France or Spain.”
Boubacar, age 27, born in Guinea Conakry. 24 workdays a month, €1300 net earnings.
“I came to Paris two years ago after having crossed the Mediterranean illegally. In Guinea, my mother died giving birth to me. I went to school, but after my father was killed for political reasons while we were in Guinea-Bissau, I supported myself as best I could. I managed to cross over to Mauritania, then to Morocco, and worked in aluminum siding. After an accident on the job, I left the country to go to Spain, then to Bordeaux, France. Now, in Paris, I live alone, with no family. I work as a rider for Stuart and Uber Eats, but under someone else’s account. I applied to have my own account, but got no reply. There are too many people waiting to get legalized. Winters are hard. Working conditions are difficult. In the summer, on the other hand, there are fewer orders, and so sometimes I make €40 to €50 before taxes for 8–9 hours of work. There are ups and downs, but I’ve been lucky. I like working with my hands, and would like to start my own aluminum siding company, like my previous job. Also, I’d like to help orphans in Africa; I have family down there who are struggling.”
Delmas, age 29, born in Côte d’Ivoire. 26 workdays a month, €1500 net earnings.
“I’m the only one among my 12 siblings to live in France. Before, I studied business in Morocco and volunteered for migrant support organizations, such as the Pan-African Organization for the Fight against AIDS (OPALS). I have been a delivery rider for two years. It’s physical labor. You have to be on your toes and follow the rules of the road. Fatigue makes you lose concentration, commit errors, and may even lead to a fatal accident. I often get a flat, so I would accept short-distance orders and deliver them on foot. It’s hard to live with the condescending gaze of a customer when you’re delivering their pizza on the sixth floor without an elevator, simply because you’re wearing a rider’s uniform. Or the way restaurant owners look at us, barely give us the time of day and won’t let us sit down. It’s normal to sweat when you’re biking. People shouldn’t look at us like we’re some bums. A job is a job. It’s more dignified than begging. I do this job with passion.”
Hassen, age 30, born in Algeria. 30 workdays a month, €2000 net earnings.
“I came to France in 2015 with a Bachelor’s in Legal and Administrative Science. In Algeria, I worked in ocean freight. I’ve been a rider for Deliveroo for a year and a half. Every day, at 11.30am, I sit down on a bench with my friends and wait for orders. When it rings, we wish each other good luck. As a rule, I’m done by 4pm, then start again at 6pm and work until 11pm. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights are peak delivery times. You must log in your hours or else you get downgraded. And so you rarely get a weekend off. Every Monday, Deliveroo sends me a new schedule depending on my ratings from the week before. The lower my ratings, the fewer work hours I will be assigned. Every day, I cover a minimum 60 km by bike. We are paid per delivery, not per hour. A little while ago, the rates went down from €5.75 to €4.70 per delivery, from which, of course, you need to deduct self-employment taxes. When I go to pick up an order at a restaurant sometimes the client scowls at me, as if I was unclean. I honestly don’t understand. My dream? To open my own restaurant.”
Délivrez-nous – Bike Delivery Workers in Paris
I had unconsciously acknowledged their presence as I walked the streets of Paris. At any time of day or night, rain or shine, their two-wheeled silhouettes would whizz past me, barely noticed. Within a few months, food delivery riders have come to occupy an important place in our lives. I wanted to get to know the stories of those about whom we know next to nothing, except the shape of their instantly recognizable, multicolored insulated bags. Do we see them as migrants? Undocumented workers?
Quick and always on the move, it wasn’t easy to catch them or gain their trust. It would take months to encounter the same rider again, since their job allows for little personal time: “I’ve got almost no life,” one rider told me. They described their working conditions: the rules they must follow, dictated by a gig economy built on an unsustainable model—the mandatory on-call hours; the diligence required to maintain one’s statistics; the dangers of a job that forces workers to take risks in order to gain speed and reach profitability.
Then I discovered the stories of the men who are on the job for different reasons, but each following a dream. Their itineraries were mapped by circumstance; their narratives were touching, and sometimes full of hardship. As I made more portraits, I wanted to stop making assumptions and record their life-stories. I wanted to nourish these encounters with my presence just as much as their images made an impression on my film.
Pictures & interviews: Max Riché
Texts: Jonas Cuénin