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A very interesting article was published this week in Metropoli about the "invisible riders"; those who rent the accounts of other food delivery app users (click here to read (in Spanish)). The invisible riders are doubly exploited, first by the platforms and second by the account holder, who takes a cut of at least 30% on all deliveries. "There is a cascade of exploitations," says Oscar Murciano, of the CGT union in Catalonia.

This is not a small phenomenon. In Barcelona, one invisible rider estimates 70-80% of riders use rented accounts. A CGT affiliated rider puts the figure at 40%. Either way, that's a huge section of the workforce. Why does this happen? 

The invisible rider is most likely an undocumented immigrant, meaning they don't have a residence permit and thus do not have permission to work legally in Spain. Renting accounts is a way to get work, as they never have to see their boss, and therefore the barriers to access this work illegally are low, even if the take-home pay is peanuts and the risks are higher as they have to work more hours and accept the worst routes to boost their salary. "It is a very slave job," one invisible rider of Pakistani origin told Metropoli. "Right now you almost pay to work."

Why is this allowed? For company's like Glovo, Spain's largest food delivery platform, there is a suspicion that they are quite happy to tolerate a black market in their apps as the invisible riders are more likely to accept poverty wages and will do the long-distance routes that other riders may be less willing to accept. "Glovo...is aware and allows it," a rider in CGT says. "This scenario guarantees that there are always distributors on the streets."

Glovo claim they have security measures to prevent illegal use of their app, including a facial recognition system, but the invisible riders in Barcelona who spoke to Metropoli say they have found it easy to get around this, and believe that it "is only intended to be protection against a possible lawsuit".

In any case, better facial recognition software is hardly a solution to a problem rooted in the racial hierarchy of contemporary global capitalism, where undocumented migrants sit at the bottom of the pyramid. Glovo is only the latest in a long-line of companies going back hundreds of years which have exploited this hierarchy for their own gain, something which should be remembered during Black History Month. 

The answer to the double-exploitation of the invisible riders should be to make them visible by giving them the right to work, but it should also be to hold the platforms to account for failing to take full responsibility for the welfare of all of their workforce. 

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

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Gig Economy news round-up

  • STUART RIDER IS A WORKER, UK COURT FINDS: The Court of Appeal in the UK has confirmed that a Stuart Delivery rider is a worker, and should therefore be entitled to labour rights like a pension and a minimum wage. Stuart Delivery had appealed the initial decision, but the ruling in favour of Mr Augustine, a member of the IWGB trade union, is likely to have wider ramifications, as another 150 Stuart couriers who are also members of the IWGB are pursuing law-suits on the same basis. Read more here
  • PRIVATE HIRE DRIVERS PROTEST IN PARIS: Members of the national intersyndicale INV union mobilised in Paris on Wednesday against new restrictions imposed by the Paris City Council on private hire drivers in the city centre. The Council has reduced the speed limit and has also established a study into a "limited traffic zone" which could be introduced next year. The INV say that the council only consults the digital platforms and not the drivers on changes, which it sees as an attempt to "prevent them from working". Read more here.
  • GORILLAS GETS ANOTHER $1 BILLION IN INVESTMENT: The super-fast grocery delivery firm Gorillas has had another successful funding round, receiving $1 billion in new investment including from food delivery multi-national Delivery Hero and Chinese tech giant Tencent. The Berlin based start-up has struggled to deal with worker discontent, recently firing workers on mass for wildcat strikes and blockades of warehouses, but that hasn't stopped big players in the tech world putting more money into the firm, which had a valuation of $2.1 billion before the latest investment. Read more here.
  • UNION DENOUNCES GLOVO'S CONTRACTUAL MALPRACTISE: The CCOO union in the Navarre region of Spain has agreed a deal with Spanish food delivery platform Glovo for the hiring of 14 riders, but has denounced the attempt by the company and its sub-contractor to impose "abusive clauses and errors in the contracts". The 14 riders, who deliver from "Glovo Express" supermarkets, were given less than a day to decide if they wanted to agree to a contract which included a sub-contractor agreement with the state which had expired in 2008 and were only on a fixed-term basis. After the union intervened, the workers managed to win a contract which respects the Navarra Food Trade Agreement, a commitment that they will be hired directly by the company rather than through a sub-contractor, and will be provided with protective material and a smartphone. The union said the agreement "represents a step towards dignifying the sector". Read more here.
  • DELIVEROO ORDERS SOAR: UK-based food delivery platform Deliveroo has announced a 59% growth in UK and Ireland orders over the last quarter, and a 64% growth internationally. The platform, which is part-owned by Amazon, has benefited from a partnership with the tech giant, which gives all members of Amazon's 'Prime' on-demand TV service a year of free access to Deliveroo Plus, which offers unlimited delivery on orders over £25. The link-up with Amazon has more than doubled Deliveroo Plus sign-ups since it was launched in mid-September. The easing of the pandemic in the global north does not seem to have slowed down rising demand for Deliveroo's fast-food delivery. Read more here
  • GLOVO MANAGEMENT ON COURSE FOR BIG BONUS FROM IPO: Spanish food delivery platform Glovo is planning to launch its IPO in 2022, becoming the first Spanish start-up to make the jump on to the stock market. The IPO is expected to net Glovo's top management €55 million. Despite having eyes on a big money pay-out, CEO and co-founder Oscar Pierre continues to complain about the 'Riders Law', which he described as "botched" in an interview this week, criticising the Spanish Government for a "aggressive and inflexible regulatory environment". Glovo have refused to hire the majority of the riders despite the passing of the Law and a Spanish Supreme Court ruling that Glovo riders are workers, with Pierre claiming that it remained a "legal grey area". Click here and here to read more.

Have we missed important news on the gig economy in Europe this week? E-mail Ben at [email protected] to help us improve our news round-up.

On GEP this week

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Uber says it wants to lead Europe’s zero-carbon transition in the transport sector, but it’s record is a company that has massively contributed to the pollution of cities. 

From around the web

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The Tech Won't Save Us podcast is joined by Yaseen Aslam of the ADCU union to talk about the gig economy in the UK.

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Labour law experts Valerio de Stefano and Antonio Aloisi write in Social Europe on the legal intricacies of the EU Commission's plans to regulate platform work.

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The Gig Economy Project's co-ordinator Ben Wray is quoted in this excellent report on EuroNews on the mass firings at Gorillas and what they might mean for the future of the gig economy in Europe.

What's coming up?


The Gig Economy Project will be reporting from the Left in the European Parliament's transnational forum on alternatives to Uberisation in Brussels on 27th of October. The event will be available in-person and online. Details and to register here.

We will also be at the European Trade Union Institute's two-day conference on 'labour rights & the digital transition' in Brussels on 28th and 29th of October. See the programme here.

Follow @project_gig on Twitter and the BraveNewEurope.com website for reports. If you are also attending either of these events and would like to say hello, contact Ben on [email protected]


- An online PhD symposium on the the future of the platform economy and platform work, hosted by the DigiLabour research lab at the Unisinos University in Brazil, will be held on 27-28th October. For details and to register click here.

- A two-day conference on 'Digital Worker Inquiry: Data, Solidarity and Leverage', co-hosted by the Edinburgh University's Centre for Data, Culture & Society's Digital Social Science research cluster and the Edinburgh Futures Institute, will take place on 28-29 October and is an online event. For full details of the programme and to register click here.

- The European Commission will announce its legislative proposal for improving the conditions of platform workers on 8th of December. 

Know of more events or actions that we should be highlighting? Let us know at [email protected].

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Get in touch

The Gig Economy Project is a media network for gig workers and we welcome contributions from workers, writers, academics, activists - anyone who wants to stand up for gig workers' rights. 

If you would like to write for the site, discuss arranging an interview with GEP, or simply have information about developments in the gig economy in Europe you think we should be aware of, get in touch. 

Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at [email protected] or send a direct message to the Twitter @project_gig.

And if you like the Gig Economy Project weekly newsletter, why not send the link to subscribe to a friend or colleague?

The Gig Economy Project is a Brave New Europe production. If you want to help GEP expand our work, visit BraveNewEurope.com to make a donation.

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