Longform | Workers' rights

‘I must work, no matter what’

By - 11.09.2023

Food delivery workers confront dangerous streets and exploitative labor conditions.

Anes looked angry as he waited on his moped outside a building in FushĂ« Kosova. “They say, ‘I’ll come down in five minutes,’ and then make you wait for half an hour in the heat,” said the 18-year-old. He has been delivering food with an electric moped for the last year in a city full of restaurants, cafes and highrises.

While Anes is often made to wait, he cannot keep the customers waiting. His work is time sensitive and stressful. Since starting this job in 12th grade, he has had to navigate the congested roads of Fushë Kosova daily. He doesn’t even have the security of a contract or proper protective gear. All he has is his moped and a verbal agreement with his boss that if there’s an accident the expenses will be covered.

Anes has recently finished high school and believes he’s done with education. He doesn’t like working as a delivery driver, but is forced to work to help his five-member family and to cover his own expenses. “In our family, only my father worked and it was a little difficult to make ends meet,” he said. 

Mopeds bearing the logos of various restaurants have become a common sight on the streets of Kosovo. They are often seen waiting in front of residential buildings with insulated delivery bags to keep the food warm while it’s being delivered to customers. Until recently, the only way to dine out in Kosovo was to go to a restaurant. Today, through delivery services, the food goes wherever the customer is.

Food delivery services began to emerge in Kosovo around 2010, but the practice has a much longer history. In 1889, King Umberto and Queen Margherita received a pizza from the famous pizzeria “di Pietro e Basta Così” in Naples, becoming, according to some, the first pizza delivery customers. Today, an insecure labor market has reinforced the need for food deliveries as many employees are working longer hours. This has made ordering food a necessity for many workers.

In Kosovo and elsewhere, food delivery became increasingly prevalent during the Covid pandemic, when restrictive measures meant that physical contact and eating in restaurants was limited. In difficult economic times, many restaurants embraced delivery services as a means to stay afloat. 

Once a service reserved for royalty, today anyone can order food through an app or phone call. While many office workers do not leave their offices to eat lunch, food delivery drivers work on the road. In Kosovo, those who deliver food on mopeds are unable to enjoy the convenience that food delivery services offer to others.

Underage and no contract

In Kosovo, food delivery services are largely part of the informal economy, where employees work without a contract. Although there are no precise statistics, reports by independent institutions suggest that the informal and illegal market constitutes about 30% of the Gross Domestic Product, the value of all goods and services produced in an economy over a given period.

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2023 Investment Climate Statements report for Kosovo, informality prevails in key sectors such as agriculture, construction and retail. The report emphasizes that due to the slow pace of legal procedures, informal or verbal agreements often have more weight than formal contracts.

Anes also works without a contract, which has its risks. “Fortunately, I’ve never had an accident,” said Anes, hoping that he will soon be able to find another job, a safer one with a contract.

Fatjon Fetahu didn’t have Anes’s luck. He had an accident when working as a delivery driver and not only had to deal with his injuries, but also shoulder the burden of medical expenses.

“I covered the medical expenses myself,” said the 21-year-old, who didn’t have an employment contract. “I had to cover all the medical expenses. It’s not nice to fall off a moped. After I recovered, my family did not let me continue in this line of work.”

Armend, 17, recently started working as a food delivery driver at a restaurant in the Santea neighborhood in Prishtina.

“I don’t have a contract because I’m a minor. I receive my salary in cash,” Armend said. He works eight hours a day and covers about 40 kilometers. His monthly salary is 350 euros. 

Armend, Fetahu and Anes all work without contracts and are exposed to the daily dangers of driving mopeds.

The streets of Kosovo are full of food delivery drivers, many of them without safety gear. Photo: Dina Hajrullahu / K2.0.

In addition to lacking contracts, Anes, like Armend, started to work when still a minor. Their work is considered dangerous for their age. According to the Labor Law, persons aged 15 to 18 can only be employed in work that does not pose a risk to their health, development, safety or morals.

Working without a contract is something that unites young people across Kosovo. In the 2022 Labor Force Survey, conducted by the Kosovo Statistics Agency, young people ages 15 to 24 make up 14.6% of the labor force and the majority work without a contract.

Armend, who dropped out of high school in order to devote himself to his job, works an average of 48 to 50 hours a week. He said that because of economic difficulties he has been doing similar jobs since he was 12 years old.

“I would never work for just 350 euros, but I have to. I started working at the age of 12. I worked as a construction worker, I worked as a waiter, I worked at a car wash, I made burgers in Hajvali, these kinds of jobs,” said Armend, pointing out that there are also employees younger than him in his current workplace.

Anes also has colleagues under the age of 18. “They have an employee who is 16 years old, in the 10th or 11th grade. He mainly works the evening shift,” he said.

Naim Bajraktari, an occupational health and safety expert at the health and safety company HSK, said that full-time employment at this age should not be allowed. “They can’t work in the same category as an adult,” said Bajraktari. He added that on top of the danger of driving a moped, the pressure to deliver food as fast as possible increases the risks.

According to Naim Bajraktari, delivering food is a dangerous job. Photo: Halim Kafexholli / K2.0

The Labor Law, in addition to stating that the working hours for minors cannot exceed 30 hours per week, completely prohibits night work for people under 18. The Administrative Instruction for the Prevention and Prohibition of Dangerous Forms of Child Labor prohibits minors working during the night as it can cause physical and psychological damage.

The Law on Child Protection oversees the institutional framework that protects minors who are at risk from their employment and forbids all work that affects the well-being of children.

In November 2022, the International Labor Organization published a report on child labor in Kosovo. According to data compiled by state institutions in cooperation with international organizations, the report revealed that 5.3% of children in Kosovo were engaged in work, equivalent to more than 19,600 children.

This figure was higher among children from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, where 7% of children work. 

The report also showed that if the house work carried out by children is not counted, the total number of working children would be 3.8%. For children from the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, the figure would be 6.1%.

However, UNICEF’s Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, known as MICS6, also took children’s housework into consideration and reported a much higher prevalence of child labor. According to UNICEF, 9.3% of children in Kosovo work.

Despite the legal framework, due to poor economic conditions and low level of institutional supervision, many children and teenagers in Kosovo are forced to do dangerous work. According to the Coalition of NGOs for the Protection of Children, children involved in hard labor are exposed to a number of risks, including neglect, mistreatment, physical and psychological abuse, and in some cases lack access to education. UNICEF states that any kind of child labor compounds social inequality and discrimination.

Unprotected on the roads

In addition to the lack of a contract, Anes works illegally as he does not possess a permit for driving two-wheeled vehicles.

According to the Law on Driving License, Anes and his colleagues must have at least a category A1 driver’s license, which is necessary for driving small-engine motorcycles.

Anes has been driving a moped for two months now. Until May of this year, the restaurant where he works used cars for deliveries. 

“I used to deliver by car, but a couple of months ago we started using mopeds,” said Anes, who doesn’t even possess the category B driving license necessary for driving four-wheeled vehicles. However, he said that this was not a concern for the business owner. “Our boss doesn’t even care about this, he just tells us to be careful,” he said.

Traffic expert and university lecturer Nol Dedaj, said that those who provide services to customers using two-wheeled vehicles need more than the driver’s license required by the Law on Road Traffic Safety. “It is necessary for these employees who drive an A1 category vehicle to be trained and have at least two years of driving experience before starting work,” said Dedaj.

Apart from lacking the necessary license to drive a moped, the biggest concern for Anes is the lack of safety gear, which he said was not provided by the restaurant owner to any of the three delivery drivers.

“We don’t have helmets, nobody gave us any,” he said.

Dedaj pointed out that in addition to helmets, they must also be equipped with other safety equipment.

“The person driving the vehicle must also wear reflective gear. Other drivers must be able to see them in order to avoid accidents. Accidents involving one-trace [two-wheeled] vehicles are very common,” said Dedaj. In his 34 years of experience he has worked as an expert reviewing road accident cases. He says that accidents involving two-wheeled vehicles have an extremely high fatality rate.

Fatjon Fetahu, who started working as a food delivery driver to cover his schooling expenses and support his four-member family, has experienced these dangers first-hand. He started this work in 2021, right after the pandemic restrictions were lifted and food delivery services started to grow rapidly.

“Fast-food companies were hiring delivery drivers, and it occurred to me to work for them in order to pay my college expenses,” said the third-year economics student. “The asphalt was wet because it had just stopped raining. At a turn about 500 meters from the pizzeria, my moped slipped. I had a head injury and a fracture in the elbow of my left arm.”

Fetahu thinks that he would have avoided the injury if he had been wearing a helmet or other protective gear, which he said was not provided by his employer.

Brikena Berisha, from the Kosovar Initiative for Stability, a think-tank focused on socio-economic development in Kosovo, said that in addition to protective gear, these workers should undergo a health check.

“When you place someone in traffic, you should know that they are in good health, clear-sighted and have good instincts and reaction times, as well as other abilities,” she said. She pointed out that health checks rarely happen and when they do are carried out at the Clinical Center of Family Medicine and not an occupational physician. According to Berisha, there are currently only three occupational physicians in the whole of Kosovo, who are all close to retirement.

Brikena Berisha thinks that the Labor Inspectorate neglects food delivery drivers. Photo: Halim Kafexholli / K2.0

Qefsere Grajqevci, occupational physician at the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Obiliq, within the Kosovo Energy Corporation, said that in her 40 years of experience, employers have  never conducted health screenings for food delivery workers.

“It’s very thoughtful of you to cover this issue, because it isn’t even discussed by the Ministry of Labor,” Grajqevci said. According to her, this type of work should be taken seriously by the institutions and the workers should be protected. In addition to fatal accidents, there are often other consequences such as traumatic disorders after accidents.

Ignored by institutions

The Labor Inspectorate is responsible for supervising the implementation of the Labor Law and the Administrative Instruction for the Prevention and Prohibition of Dangerous Forms of Child Labor. It has the authority to intervene in order to prevent and mitigate rights violations in the workplace.

Berisha, from the Kosovo Initiative for Stability said that the Labor Inspectorate should oversee and ensure the proper implementation of contractual relationships. “The Labor Inspectorate should not allow the damage to be done, preventive measures are needed — they should fine the companies,” she said.

The director of the department for strategic planning and legal issues in the Labor Inspectorate, Vesel Zhinipotoku, said that based on their data, there are no recorded cases of food delivery drivers having accidents at work. This is because they are handled according to the Law on Road Traffic Safety, which means that they are categorized as deaths or accidents in traffic rather than in the workplace.

The Labor Inspectorate did not provide statistics or data when asked about the number of businesses fined due to not providing employees with safety gear. When asked about how these businesses are monitored, especially regarding the employment of minors, working without a contract and dangers in the workplace, the Labor Inspectorate did not provide a detailed answer, except that they work in accordance with the law.

The Kosovo Police also doesn’t collect statistics on the fines issued in connection to traffic accidents involving food delivery drivers. Their Information Office only gave K2.0 the general statistics on fatal accidents, accidents resulting in injury and the number of traffic fines issued. This data shows that in the first six months of this year, 40 people died as a result of traffic accidents. Over the same period, the police removed over 130 two-wheeled vehicles from the road and issued over 250 fines to motorcycle drivers.

According to Berisha, this lack of data is because the Labor Inspectorate is more focused on construction and retail, while other sectors are neglected. According to her, businesses that distribute food could easily be monitored. “With a simple search on social media you can find which businesses offer delivery. The Labor Inspectorate could take a sample of 20 businesses, for example, and visit them to see if they work according to the regulations. That’s the Labor Inspectorate’s job,” she added.

While for Berisha the work of the police is an initial reaction rather than a long-term solution, Bajraktari said that the main responsibility falls on the police and that they are negligent towards these drivers. He said that this is “a job for the police especially,” adding that the Labor Inspectorate’s role is to implement measures on businesses, but it cannot monitor what happens on the roads. According to Bajraktari, the police should fine drivers for not having a license or wearing safety gear, many of whom are minors without contracts. For him, this would create safety in the workplace.

“Safety at work comes precisely from this. These young people, these employees must be protected. Who is responsible? The employer, not the employees,” said Bajraktari.

When food delivery drivers have accidents on the road they are not classified as accidents in the workplace. Photo: Dina Hajrullahu / K2.0.

Dedaj criticized the traffic police for their stance on moped riders’ safety. According to him, the police emphasize the use of helmets and overlook the importance of other equally important safety gear.

The police state that they identify traffic offenses involving two-wheeled vehicles on a daily basis and deny that this matter is being neglected.

“The police work on this matter has been done on our social networks and through media appearances, with the sole purpose of raising awareness between road users. There have been advice and awareness campaigns in the past, and there will continue to be such campaigns in the future,” said the police Information Office.

The police did not respond when asked if they cooperate with the Labor Inspectorate regarding the issue of food delivery workers. According to Bajraktari, this cooperation should exist.

Armend has lost hope that someone will come to his aid in the event of an accident, as happened to Fetahu. “If something happens to me on the road, no one will take responsibility. I know this, but we must work no matter what and just rely on luck,” he said.

K2.0 sent questions to the Independent Union of the Private Sector regarding the rights of food delivery drivers. The head of this union, Jusuf Azemi, replied that he had nothing to say on this matter as food delivery workers have no union representation.

Berisha said that the creation of a union for food delivery workers could play a key role in improving their working conditions and rights. However, she said that the unionization of this sector would be challenging due to the small number of employees.

According to the Law on Trade Union Organization, 10 members are needed to form a trade union. At least two trade unions are needed to form a federation of trade unions, whose membership constitutes at least 10% of employees in that sector. This is in order to protect the interests of a certain group of workers, in this case, food delivery drivers.

Practically ignored by institutions, unrepresented and without opportunities for union organization, Anes, Fetahu, Armend and many others are alone on the road. They work without a driver’s license or safety gear, relying on luck and hoping their situation will improve.

“If I can I’ll work in a call center when I turn 18, or if I learn the language maybe I’ll go to Germany,” said Armend with determination, before quickly putting an end to our conversation. He had to deliver some burgers. He can’t keep customers waiting.


Feature image: Dina Hajrullahu/ K2.0.

This article was produced with the financial support of the European Union in the scope of the “Protecting and Promoting Labour Rights of Vulnerable Groups in the Labour Market” project.
Its contents are the sole responsibility of Kosovo 2.0 and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union, ATRC or BIRN Kosovo.

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