ROME (AP) — Italy is going after online food delivery companies, with one prosecutor lamenting Wednesday that the cyclists who deliver the food, many of them immigrants, are practically treated like slaves.

Milan prosecutors said that four major delivery companies in Italy have been given 90 days to improve their treatment of riders, including providing them with safe bicycles, accident compensation, job contracts and training, among other work protections.

Authorities also issued a total of 733 million euros ($880 million) in fines. Prosecutor Tiziana Siciliano said the delivers “represent a fundamental link, without which the businesses couldn’t function.”

Italian news agency LaPresse said three of the four companies issued statements expressing surprise and contending that they offer their delivery people flexibility and safety.

With cafes and restaurants closed entirely or partially for months under pandemic lockdown restrictions, riders bearing boxes of takeout food buzzed through big cities and small towns to help keep countless Italians fed and safe in their homes.

The four companies have about 60,000 riders using bicycles and motor scooters, hardly any of them working with any kind of contract, pension contributions, paid holidays, sick leave or accident coverage, the prosecutors in Milan said.


The riders earn about 4 euros ($4.80) for every delivery, Prosecutors said during a news conference Wednesday that the companies use algorithms to determine which riders get assigned more deliveries, and those riders are called for even more work.

“It’s no longer the time to say that they are slaves, but it’s time to say that they are citizens,” prosecutor Francesco Greco told reporters. He added that investigators applied ”not a moral approach to the subject but a legal one.”

The probe grew out of a 2019 investigation into street accidents involving the bike delivery workers.

The companies are also under investigation to determine if they might have violated tax laws, the prosecutors said.