© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A food delivery worker rides a motorbike to deliver meal orders, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, May 14, 2020. Picture taken May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Abdel Hadi Ramahi/File Photo

By Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI (Reuters) -Deliveroo has suspended plans that would cut rider earnings in the United Arab Emirates after a rare strike by foreign delivery workers in the Gulf Arab state over working conditions disrupted services on Sunday.

In an email to restaurants on Monday, seen by Reuters, Deliveroo said it was pausing what it called a proposed change in rider fee structure and that it would engage with riders over the weeks and months ahead.

A day earlier, the Amazon-backed firm informed restaurants that “riders are striking and refusing to attend their shifts or deliver orders” and said in an email that it would “protect Deliveroo rider earnings to remain the most competitive in the market”.

A Deliveroo spokesperson confirmed to Reuters that the company was halting all changes and that it would work with delivery riders to ensure a structure that works for everyone and has their “best interest at heart”.

Social media posts on Sunday showed large groups of delivery drivers in teal-coloured Deliveroo uniforms striking in Dubai against pay cuts and extended working hours.

Some posts said earnings were being cut by about 15% to 8.75 dirhams ($2.38) an hour, while shifts were extended to 12 hours.

Reuters could not immediately verify the posts. Authorities in the UAE, where independent trade unions and labour strikes are banned, did not respond to requests for comment.

“Our initial intention with the announcement was to propose a more well-rounded structure for rider earnings in addition to other incentives,” the Deliveroo spokesperson said without providing details.

“It is clear that some of our original intentions have not been clear and we are listening to riders.”

Human rights group Equidem urged Deliveroo to provide workers with a living wage, alleging riders were paying for fuel, housing and visa costs out of their own pockets. Employers in the UAE often provide housing benefits.

It’s statement also called on UAE authorities to permit trade unions and not to punish those for taking part in the strike action.

The UAE and other Gulf states have drawn criticism from human rights groups and activists for the treatment of low-paid migrant workers who make up a large segment of the workforce.

Those in blue collar jobs are most vulnerable to exploitation, typically living in cramped quarters and working long hours, having paid high recruitment fees, activists say.

In response to the Deliveroo strike, some users on social media called for a boycott of the firm while others encouraged people to tip delivery workers.

($1 = 3.6726 UAE dirham)

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