In Valencia, a small but highly symbolic victory against sub-contracting was won on Thursday [9 June].
The Provincial Inspection of Labour and Social Security of Valencia issued a resolution stating Just Eat must employ 150 of its riders directly, rather than via a subcontractor. The resolution found that Just Eat's contracts via the temporary employment company JY Hiring were fraudulent. Along with direct hiring, Just Eat must provide the proper conditions for the riders to work, including changing rooms with a specific space for women, and it must undertake an assessment of the psychosocial risks to its riders from the job.
The resolution stemmed from a complaint made by the CNT union in Valencia, and following the ruling the union's legal advisor, Antonio Ruiz, stated: "We are showing that the union struggle is effective in dignifying and stabilising employment, putting an end to intermediaries that make it even more precarious".
Why does this matter? Just Eat is Europe's largest food delivery platform and has received praise for employing its riders, but the majority are employed via sub-contractors which are notorious for poor working conditions. Indeed, as we have written previously in this newsletter, detaching the principal company from responsibility for worker conditions is one of the main reasons for sub-contracting, so as to "separate power and profits, on one side, from risks and responsibilities, on the other side", as a study into sub-contracting by the European Trade Union Confederation found.
In Germany, Lieferando is the brand which Just Eat operates under, and Max from the Lieferando Workers Collective in Berlin told GEP that he believes 95% of the company's riders in the German capital are not hired directly. Instead, they are either employed by the restaurant which Just Eat delivers from or, more commonly, through sub-contractors which hire riders to work for different platforms, including Lieferando, on an agency basis. While Lieferando boasts that it only employs riders on permanent contracts, this "only applies to the 5%," Max says.
Not only does sub-contracting disguise the reality of the working conditions of Lieferando's riders, in the context of the cost of living crisis and falling demand for food delivery, these riders are being laid off on mass without Just Eat having to do so much as acknowledge that fact in a press release.
"In Berlin in the last months the number of Lieferando couriers decreased from above 2,000 to below 2,000, by around about 300 workers," Max says. "Those are 300 workers that everyone would be making a fuss about at Gorillas, but nobody speaks about it at Lieferando because nobody knows."
Gorillas, which had started life promising to hire all its riders directly, is also increasingly moving towards a sub-contracting model in Berlin as well, as most of it's recent hires have been through the student temporary employment agency Zenjobs, according to current and former Gorillas employees. Suffice to say, organising Zenjobs-employed Gorillas riders through the Gorillas Workers Council is a much harder task than organising direct Gorillas employees.
Of course, the riders working for Gorillas and Lieferando via sub-contractors are all being instructed on where to deliver by the Gorillas and Lieferando algorithms, which is why there is a legitimate legal case to say that the sub-contractors are not the riders real bosses. This is the basis upon which CNT Valencia won its legal case, and it might be necessary for unions to make the same argument in courts all over Europe, especially if politicians continue to be reluctant to crackdown on the scourge of sub-contracting.
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator