My background

In September 2018 I moved from Sheffield to study in Copenhagen. I decided on Denmark not because of the fad around ‘hygge’ or a love of bacon, but because there were no tuition fees. It was possible to get a Danish government funded grant, provided that I worked part-time alongside my studies. Given the overblown fees in the UK and many other countries, it seemed like a no brainer to move to Denmark where I could potentially have financial security while studying. I was also under a naive assumption that I would not experience the same exploitative working conditions which exist in the UK, due to the strength of the Danish labour movement and the still robust welfare state. This turned out to be a false assumption. Instead, I worked a job for pitiful wages and was sacked on spurious grounds. I’ve met many other people in Copenhagen who have faced similar experiences of exploitation in the workplace. They are almost entirely non-Danes who are unaware of their rights and feel that they are not in a position to stick up for themselves and their co-workers.

My experience of being sacked caused significant mental as well as financial strain - my lack of experience in trade union organising and the way I was personally singled out by the company meant my struggle was isolated and individualised. Thankfully I managed to get another job almost immediately after being sacked, but the thought of even bumping into anyone from my previous workplace still fills me with feelings of shame and dread. I heard that Wolt couriers were beginning to organise and, as I needed a little extra cash, I decided to become a Wolt courier myself and try to aid and develop their organising efforts. I also needed to write a thesis for my master’s programme, so conducting a workers’ inquiry into the realities of working as a Wolt courier and our attempts at forming collective resistance was fitting. Getting involved in an organising campaign of other precarious workers turned out to be the perfect antidote to the atomised feeling of exploitation that myself and many other non-Danes face when working in Copenhagen. This piece is a summary of my research which tried to provide not only my own perspective, but also that of some of the hundreds of couriers I met throughout the period.


Wolt is a Finnish technology company, financially backed by venture-capital, which provides the logistics for food delivery in cities, very similar to other food-platforms such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats. Wolt has seen massive growth in the last 12 months, coming second in the Financial Times list of the top growing companies in Europe, and there are around 1500 active couriers in Copenhagen alone.1 In Denmark, Wolt is by far the largest food-platform, operating in almost every Danish city. In cities such as Copenhagen they have a near monopoly on food delivery, with other companies such as Just Eat and Take Away only representing a small portion of food deliveries in comparison.

Technical Composition

The payment system of Wolt couriers requires some explanation. There is the possibility of getting shifts wherein you are guaranteed at least 120 kr (£14.50) per hour before tax, with the possibility to go over this threshold if you make enough deliveries in the hour. At a mandatory introduction meeting I attended we were led to believe that there were an abundance of shifts, which I later found out to be completely false. Wolt couriers also have the option of simply logging on and working without a shift, meaning that you make a minimum of 45 kr (£5.40) per delivery before tax.

As with other food-platforms, Wolt couriers are self-employed, meaning that they do not receive sick pay, holiday pay, and they work on a zero-hours contract. In addition to this, it is the responsibility of the couriers to provide the tools necessary to complete the work: a smartphone with a comprehensive data plan, a vehicle and its maintenance, as well as safety equipment.

I was surprised that before starting as a courier there was not even a cursory check of whether we had a functioning vehicle or safety equipment. I collected the gear from their Copenhagen office, which included the delivery bag, a winter coat and two t-shirts. We were told it was compulsory to wear wolt clothing when working, making us couriers a moving advertisement on shift. Once I’d got the gear I was allowed to start delivering.

When I started working as a courier, I was pleasantly surprised by how much it was possible to earn during peak hours. Compared with other service sector jobs open to non-Danes, such as bar and cafe work where you typically earn 110-120 kr an hour before tax, it was possible to earn upwards of 130 kr an hour working as a Wolt courier during peak hours. As a city famous for its cycling infrastructure and flat landscape, I imagine that it is easier and safer to work as a Wolt courier in Copenhagen by bike than, say, working as a Deliveroo courier in Sheffield. But unlike Sheffield the general cost of living in Copenhagen is one of the highest in the world, so it was not uncommon for couriers to work upwards of 50 hours a week in order to provide for themselves and their relatives.

The shifts were allocated twice per week and were all gone within about a 30 second period. The frequency of couriers trying to get a shift was too much for the app to handle, meaning that it crashed for many couriers. This meant a large number of us resorted to working without a shift and only being paid per delivery. During non-peak hours it was much harder to make decent money. The cohort most affected by this were the most precarious couriers, who needed to maximise their income by working throughout the day and night. However, extremely low wages were not exclusive to non-peak hours. On a Friday night during the summer, I worked without a shift for 4 hours and earned 200 kr - only 50 kr (£6) an hour before tax. The lowest rate of tax in Denmark is 38%, meaning that my evening’s work barely afforded me two beers in a bar.

The relationships with the restaurants could be particularly frustrating for those working without a shift. Some restaurants only start preparing the food when the courier is nearby. Such delays during peak hours, with couriers waiting outside restaurants, can prevent couriers from recuperating the low income they may have had during the non-peak hours. In order to justify the work, a courier would want to be earning upwards of 140 kr an hour during peak hours to justify potentially only earning around 50 kr during non-peak hours, but earning this much is made impossible when there are delays from the restaurants.

Methods of Control: Algorithmic and Middle Management

Wolt’s system of algorithmic management allocates tasks to couriers and it is not possible to reject them, whether the courier is working with a shift or not. The physical boss breathing down your neck is replaced by the black box and, as one courier explained to me, ‘if you had a boss, maybe it would be easier to negotiate with them, to talk with them. Even if it doesn’t amount to much, at least it doesn’t pacify your struggle’. The functioning of Wolt’s algorithmic management is unclear and whilst Wolt denies it, many couriers feel that the system gives preference to those working with a shift. There’s also no information conveyed by Wolt to the couriers as to how performance is monitored.

Such uncertainty around the functioning of task allocation can create an ‘assembly line in the head’2 for some couriers wherein they feel that they could be being monitored at any given time. Therefore it becomes important to work as efficiently as possible so as to ensure that they receive enough tasks to sustain themselves. Despite the work being repetitive and monotonous, the uncertainties around the functioning of algorithmic management provides an effective tool for Wolt to intensify this often-tedious work which couriers perform. The encouragement from the algorithmic management to work at an impossible efficiency leads to couriers driving and cycling recklessly. The police look out for Wolt couriers as they know that so many of us will break traffic laws, making us an easy target to get a pay bonus for issuing us with hefty fines.

In addition to contending with algorithmic management, couriers have to deal with ‘support workers’ who contact couriers through a chat function in the Wolt Partner App. These support workers have employment contracts and are widely perceived as a kind of middle management, given that they act as our bosses. A courier told me that ‘their job is to discipline us, they’re like the whip’. The hierarchy in Wolt, with these support workers being in a closer proximity to the management than the couriers, means that if a disagreement occurs between a Wolt courier and a support worker, then the management will undoubtedly take the side of the support worker. Indeed, the support workers have the ability to issue warnings to couriers which can lead to suspensions or terminations. This warning system was not mentioned in the contract, at the introduction meeting or in any of the other information given to couriers. A courier expressed to me that ‘there’s not an equal playing field. They [support workers] work for the company so they can’t just get the sack. If me and support had an argument, I could get dismissed just like that and I know they would take the support’s side because they’re an employee’.

Many couriers also noticed a hierarchy in terms of the social background of support workers compared with couriers. There was an impression amongst couriers that all of the support workers were native Danes and my interactions with support workers suggested that the vast majority were. This was in stark contrast to the couriers in Copenhagen, the vast majority of whom were non-Danes. This gave the condescending tone in which support workers sometimes wrote to couriers an additional layer of tension, as there was a feeling amongst some couriers that the way the support workers treat couriers is reflective of prejudice they have faced living in Denmark.

The support workers ultimately hold a great amount of control over the Wolt couriers. A courier contacted our organising group with screenshots of messages from support that they had received during the early stage of the lockdown from the coronavirus pandemic. The courier had signed up for a shift, but subsequently developed coronavirus symptoms so couldn’t work. This courier had to cancel their shift, which caused them to receive a late cancellation warning. The courier then took a coronavirus test and as they were awaiting their results they signed up for another shift. They still had not received the results by the time that the shift was meant to take place, meaning that again they had to cancel their shift. This resulted in another late cancelation warning. Couriers in a situation such as this were in a bind: they were unable to work so received no income from Wolt but also couldn’t preemptively sign up for shifts in case of receiving a warning from support. Some couriers in this situation may have decided to continue working despite having coronavirus symptoms due to their lack of financial security and the knowledge that, if they cancel too many shifts, then they might be suspended.


As I mentioned earlier, Copenhagen is a relatively safe place to work in a road vehicle compared with many other cities in the world. Nonetheless, accidents still occur regularly without any adequate protection from Wolt. Stories have circulated about the situations different couriers have found themselves in. An Argentinian courier allegedly started working as a courier and then subsequently got into a dangerous road traffic accident. Not only could they no longer work but they also didn’t receive any sick pay. Due to the pandemic, flights to Argentina were rare and very expensive. They were therefore stuck in a situation where they couldn’t afford a flight home nor could they work due to their injury. Many Copenhagen based couriers are in a similar position where they are a road accident away from severe financial insecurity to accompany a potentially crippling injury.

Wolt implemented a form of insurance which was meant to tackle this problem, but unfortunately for couriers it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. Couriers must lose a leg, become visually impaired, paralysed, or die in order to claim the insurance.3 A lawyer within the trade union 3F stated that ‘it is not technically possible as a private person to buy an accident insurance with a Danish insurance company that comes close to having the same poor coverage’.4 Wolt has also implemented a form of sick pay specifically for those with a positive coronavirus test result, but this only covers a very small portion of their salary.

Social Composition

The Demographics of the Couriers

Those working as Wolt couriers in Copenhagen are mostly male, non-Danes in their early to mid 20s, although anecdotally myself and other couriers have noticed more Danish and older couriers joining the workforce since the economic ramifications of the pandemic have started to hit the city. I spoke to a Danish courier in October who said that his dad in his 70s was going to start delivering food shortly. Many of those working come from Latin American countries, particularly Argentina and are often living in Copenhagen on a working holiday visa. Another large part of the workforce are students, many of whom come from other European countries. Many student couriers want employee status so that they can receive the Danish student grant, which you are not meant to receive as self-employed couriers. Some couriers do manage to receive this grant, but they are at risk of the state finding out that they shouldn’t have got it as a Wolt courier. This has resulted in instances where couriers owe the state thousands of pounds in back payments, being unaware that they were not meant to be receiving the grant.

Many of the couriers I have spoken to have found themselves trapped in precarious work and, compared with employment they have had in the past, some of the couriers found Wolt to be preferable. One courier told me that they had ‘always worked precariously…in my last job [in the UK] I was bogusly ‘self-employed’ as well’. Another told me that after moving to Denmark to study they found themselves in ‘a precarious situation…Being Arab in Denmark is not exactly the best…it won’t give you a lot of work opportunities. So Wolt was one of the easier jobs to get, they didn’t need an interview, it was easy’.

However, it should be noted that for students who do receive the study grant through either another job (such as myself) or through being a Danish citizen (which means there are no work requirements to receiving the grant) the promise of flexibility in working as a courier for Wolt appeals as it provides them with a way to supplement their income. For people in this situation, Wolt provided a means to break even at the end of the month without having to plan around a more fixed schedule, as it is possible to try to plan your work around your life.

It’s important to note though that this was a relatively privileged position which many students working as couriers in Copenhagen did not find themselves in. I met many who didn’t manage to get another job which would enable them to receive the study grant which they expected to receive when studying in Copenhagen, leaving them in a highly precarious situation with some having to return to their home countries and forgo their life in Denmark. The highly saturated rental market in Copenhagen makes rent extortionate and means those living in Copenhagen are often at the whim of slum landlords. This, combined with the extortionate cost of living in Copenhagen, means that many are simply unable to only live off their fluctuating wages from Wolt and live in a city like Copenhagen.

Social Bonds amongst Couriers

Whilst there are certain ‘hotspots’ in the city where Wolt couriers are encouraged to congregate, in reality the work is much more dispersed, with couriers being pulled around in different directions. You’re most likely to see other couriers when waiting outside a restaurant, but more than the exchange of a nod is rare. Many couriers work with headphones on so starting a conversation with another courier can mean awkwardly bothering them. If couriers do know one another it tends to be because of their already existing social bonds. Much of the Latin American workforce know one another, and many of them live together, sometimes sharing vehicles and taking turns to use them for work. However, aside from this group it was hard to identify any other demographics in the workforce who had an extensive network within it. Many people had been working as couriers for a year or two but didn’t know any other couriers.

The main social interactions between couriers take place on a Facebook group facilitated by Wolt management. This was a space through which Wolt couriers supported one another in working out the confusing Danish tax system, shared tips on how to deliver faster and posted memes about the work. However, because Wolt management tightly moderated this group, people rarely brought up negative experiences or difficulties. To me the Facebook group was akin to having lunch at work with a boss or supervisor in the conversation. You’re not going to start agitating if you know that they’re listening in.

Political Composition

How we started and our achievements so far

In mid-2018 some Wolt couriers separately contacted the trade union 3F, Denmark’s largest trade union, for advice on how to organise. 3F linked these couriers with each other, and they started to agitate on the streets, handing out leaflets and organising meetings. These meetings grew to the point where they decided to be open about their activities and call themselves the Wolt Workers Group. They created a Facebook page and started agitating on the management moderated Facebook group as well as continuing their street level organising.

Once I joined we continued this strategy and grew with more and more couriers joining our meetings. We held meetings on topics which we knew would be useful to couriers such as advice on how to pay taxes and we had plans for a bike repair workshop and social events. We also had plans to write a petition with the input of as many couriers as possible and try to gather signatures, and stage an event where we hand the signed petition to Wolt management. We had momentum until the pandemic hit in early March. This stopped us in our tracks, as we could no longer have physical meetings, and there was also an understandable fear around continuing our face-to-face organising. We knew that we had to do something during this difficult period, so we decided to conduct interviews with some of the many media organisations who had contacted us. One of our key organisers and a founder of the Wolt Workers Group appeared on the Danish 9 O’Clock news talking about our organising and the conditions of couriers.5 Appearing on the prime time Danish news programme raised our profile in Danish society. Wolt management’s media strategy up to that point was to say that couriers love the current contract they’re working under. Having a courier state the complete opposite on prime time news undoubtedly scared them shitless. It no longer became feasible for management to ignore our concerns so Wolt and our union 3F entered into negotiations.

Having experienced the support of a mainstream trade union here, it’s puzzling to me that mainstream unions in other countries have been reluctant to aid platform workers organising efforts. A little support can go a long way with platform workers as has been shown in the last few years with the upsurge in collective resistance by these workers. A lack of engagement from the more established unions with the struggle of workers in these rapidly growing sectors undermines their ability to protect and represent their existing base of more established workers.


Throughout my time in the Wolt Workers Group we have noticed a big difference between having face-to-face organising conversations with couriers, and trying to have these conversations online. Whilst we found a lot of support on the management facilitated Facebook group, some couriers were skeptical of our demands for an employment contract, feeling that this would take away any flexibility which currently exists when working as a Wolt courier. This meant that the Facebook conversations could often turn into long back and forths between couriers and a competition for the most likes. Interacting with keyboard warriors was something which many of us found to be demoralising and counterintuitive to our aims of building solidarity. Our previous engagement in face-to-face conversations with couriers were far more productive than these online spats, regardless of the couriers’ preconceptions. We also found issues when trying to organise online zoom meetings. It was very challenging to keep the twenty or so people in the meeting who we had never met in real life on track and to strategise effectively. These factors all made organising during the height of the first wave of COVID-19 in Denmark particularly difficult.

Despite having problems with adapting to online organising, there were numerous advantages to our online presence. As our Facebook page grew, more Danish activist groups and trade unionists became aware of our fight. Not only this, but other groups of couriers organising such as the Justice for Couriers Campaign in Finland who organise with Foodora and Wolt couriers got in touch and we have spoken with them to share tactics and knowledge about how Wolt operates and the demands from Wolt couriers in their country. In addition to this Wolt couriers throughout the world have contacted us, from Israel to Slovenia, who are inspired by what we’re doing and are looking to start something similar in their country.

Because of our restrictions with the pandemic, the organising of the Wolt Workers Group fell on the shoulders of fewer and fewer couriers, and with a number of key organisers leaving the country over the summer we were in a tricky position. The fallout from the pandemic left so many 3F workers laid off, and some companies have used the pandemic and the coming recession to roll back on the contracts which workers have fought for in Denmark. As well as this, our union represents many frontline workers. Because of the unprecedented situation of the pandemic, the union staff we engage with have been run off their feet so haven’t had the same capacity to support us in developing our strategy. Alongside our regular meetings with 3F we turned elsewhere to improve our skills and strategise, and a few of us took part in the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung’s Strike School alongside activists from SUF, the radical youth wing of the Danish leftist party Enhedslisten who have supported us in our organising and fundraising. Whilst a worker organising strategy with the aim of launching 100% all-out strikes might not be possible in a workforce like that of Wolt couriers, where there is a mass turnover of couriers and thousands of couriers dispersed throughout the city, there are still so many vital lessons that we learned from this organising training. We’re now far more confident in having effective organising conversations and we understand how we could use ‘structure tests’ such as petitions to hopefully generate small victories which build our collective muscles.

The Future

Because of our organising efforts (although Wolt management would never admit it) certain aspects of the work have improved markedly. Support workers seemingly treat couriers with much more respect, which makes Wolt couriers lives a hell of a lot easier. Shifts are currently far easier to acquire, although this might change as Wolt are in the process of trying to recruit an extra thousand couriers in Copenhagen alone. Nonetheless, the fact that it’s easier for couriers to acquire more shifts for the time being does give more financial security for couriers, even if it may be temporary.

Over the last month we have been having organising conversations with other couriers outside restaurants in Copenhagen and getting the contact details of those most interested in getting involved in the Wolt Workers Group. Our plan is to consistently do this and identify leaders, before then deciding on our future direction and how to leverage our power with a larger and more representative group of couriers. We understand the importance in applying pressure on management to sign a contract with our union, and the best way to do that is to have as many couriers as possible organised and empowered to demand change.

Regardless of whether the negotiations between Wolt and 3F are fruitful we will continue our campaign to empower ourselves and our colleagues. Ideally we will also work with and reach out to couriers for other companies such as Just Eat. Denmark’s system of sectoral collective bargaining means that we can build solidarity across workplaces and push for good working conditions across the board. We hope that the work we’ve done so far will pave the way for a more empowered migrant workforce in Copenhagen.


Jack Campbell (@jackcampjack)

Jack is an organiser with the Wolt Workers Group and a researcher on precarity in the Danish labour market.