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Risks accumulate in food courier work

Published on 2.6.2023
Tampere University
Thin bread with a hole in the middle.Photograph: Petra Heikkilä
According to new research conducted at Tampere University, food delivery couriers who work for digital platforms run the constant risk of accidents and injuries. Platform-based food delivery work entails less occupational safety than more traditional delivery work in transport and retailing. Platform workers’ risks are caused by the piece-based gig work, time pressure and working alone. The digital management used to control the work is not transparent in all respects.

The research project investigated the perceived risks of food delivery work in different operating environments.

Project manager Mikko Perkiö is worried about the way the discriminating practices of the Finnish labour market accumulate and affect immigrants. Immigrants who are working while they have a fixed-term residence permit are mainly excluded from Finnish social security. In addition, many platform workers are self-employed, meaning that they are in a poor social security position. The most vulnerable are those food couriers who do not have their own account on the platform but work for an intermediary who is registered on the platform. In such cases, the already low pay is shared between several people.

“This creates a second labour market under the guise of the ‘freedom of the self-employed entrepreneur’ rhetoric where the pay level is frequently below minimum wages after the costs have been deducted. However, it is not even possible for persons with a fixed-term residence permit to become entrepreneurs and insure themselves with an entrepreneur's social security. On the lowest rung of the food courier ladder are undocumented people who work outside the reach of labour registers. In this way, undeclared work that people have wanted to get rid of becomes part of everyday life in Finland,” Perkiö says.

Benta Mbare, a researcher in the project, notes that the work of food couriers working for platforms involves abuse and even racism.

“Simple platform work can also be frustrating for highly educated immigrants because they are unable to use their expertise,” Doctoral Researcher Mbare adds.

The research project, which was funded by the Finnish Work Environment Fund and Tampere University, interviewed 10 food couriers, 10 food product pickers or transporters and 11 managers or entrepreneurs in retailing, transport and staffing agencies. Of them, 26 were men and 5 women. The interviewees were aged between 19 and 54, and there was no difference in the age distributions between the waged and self-employed persons.

A qualitative analysis of the interviews with food distribution operators shows that occupational health and safety, statutory accident insurance, sick leave entitlement and earnings-related pension are significant. The researchers point out that the widespread neglect of these issues, especially in the case of immigrants, does not fit in with the Finnish equality and cultural tradition. For the food couriers, physical and psycho-social risks erode occupational well-being, but being excluded from the safety mechanisms associated with working in Finland causes them the most insecurity.

Read the research report.

Research report

Perkiö, Mikko; Mbare, Benta; Svynarenko, Arseniy; Kokkinen, Lauri; Koivusalo, Meri (2023). Occupational Safety and Health Risks amongst Food Delivery Workers. Work Research Centre. Tampere University.


Mikko Perkiö
mikko.perkio [at]
+358 50 318 6183