App-based courier service challenges Finland's postal system

The domestic company promises to transport goods in the same way that Uber transports people.

A new species of courier may soon be a common sight on Finland's roads. Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

A new Finnish consumer service provider called I Carry It will begin transporting light cargo person-to-person starting this autumn. The service will be mobile application-based in the same way as ridesharing company Uber or food delivery company Wolt.

Workers at I Carry It – aged between 16 and 50 – will all be freelancers using their own transport, not salaried employees, so the company will not be offering them insurance.

I Carry It CEO Jukka Tarkiainen said the service will "supplement" the Finnish postal system, Posti, and other long-distance delivery concerns.

"Other courier services could be competitors. But their business model is different," Tarkiainen said.

The app is the first of its kind in Finland, although an Uusimaa-based newspaper delivery company called Early Bird has been in operation for a few years.

Heidi Nieminen, chair of the Finnish Post and Logistics Union (PAU), said many of Early Bird's workers have contacted the trade union, saying that couriers are effectively entrepreneurs but are still subject to company working hours.

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The I Carry It application would work very similarly to other delivery service programs. Image: Mikko Koski / Yle

The working conditions and workers' rights at many food delivery companies such as Wolt and Foodora have also caused public outrage. How would I Carry It deal with such scrutiny?

"We will endeavour to provide flexible forms of work, where employees can choose their hours freely," said Tarkiainen. "You can do a few hours a week, or just an hour a month if you like, or even full time – starting this year. We will not actually be directing the work flow, other than by offering gigs."

I Carry It announces that it intends to deliver thousands of packages a month once it is up and running.

I Carry It has received 350,000 euros in aid from the ELY Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, covering half of the development costs and expansion abroad, city by city.

The courier service is to first begin in Helsinki, Lappeenranta and Kirkkonummi, and later extend to Turku and Tampere.

The I Carry It app's visual design is by a London-based designer, while an eight-person team in India is responsible for the program's coding.

Environmental impact unknown

Senior researcher Toni Ryynänen at the University of Helsinki said that platform-based businesses have proven to work when transporting people, so switching humans for cargo is a logical step.

However crowd-sourced transport may create environmental problems, as traffic will likely increase due to people leaving their deliveries up to the company instead of commuting to deliver it themselves.

Tarkiainen said he hopes that I Carry It couriers will work on foot and by bike over shorter distances.

Legislation lags behind

The regulators at PAU decided several years ago that self-employed workers may be accepted into the union, where they will receive help whenever possible. Nieminen argues that app-based businesses should be better covered by law though.

The government programme, drafted in May, proposes that legislation be altered to better suit the needs of new forms of work, and that the tax authority must provide the necessary means to gather app-based employees' information.

"The tax man has given I Carry It a preliminary ruling so that we know how to abide by the letter of the law," Tarkiainen said.

Anybody at all can basically apply to be an I Carry It courier. First the applicants are interviewed, and the company takes down their information. Each delivery is insured for up to 300 euros.

Hourly wages, ideal prices

Nieminen said that new courier workers should read Finland's collective agreement policy (for instance, on the PAU site (siirryt toiseen palveluun) or other union sites), and demand far higher pay than salaried employees normally would receive due to the limitations of freelance work – such as having to payroll tax and insurance themselves.

"Our goal is to get our wages to a place where everyone is happy. Basic deliveries will likely pay 20 euros an hour," Tarkiainen said.

This average wage was negotiated with the help of freelance food delivery couriers working for similar app-based companies – whose practices have been decried over and over again.

The I Carry It algorithm will combine delivery orders so that one courier can pick up and deliver multiple packages on a single route. Tarkiainen said that the average price per delivery for the consumer should be about 3-6 euros.

The company intends to take 18 percent of the delivery price in intermediary fees, and pay the rest to the courier.