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'Dark stores'. Ultra-fast grocery delivery has entered a new phrase in to our vocabulary. These miniature warehouses have sprung up in cities across Europe since the start of the pandemic. They are occupied by workers known as 'pickers', who prepare groceries for the riders to deliver to homes. Due to the demands for speed in ultra-fast delivery, they are often located in dense residential neighbourhoods so as to be as close as possible to customers, and are increasingly replacing the cornershop, in what is a symbol of the economic changes which covid-19 has brought about.

Apart from the demise of the cornershop, what's the problem? The speed at which dark stores have grown has caught government off-guard, meaning it is an unregulated development. These workplaces are open until late at night and bring a crowd of riders with bikes and motorcycles with them going in and out and waiting for deliveries on the side-walk, as platforms refuse to spend cash on proper places for their riders to wait. They can be a noisy and obstructive presence in residential neighbourhoods which are used to peace and quiet. 

Dark stores aren't great places to be for the 'pickers' who occupy them as well, and not just because of the low-pay. GEP spoke to Gorillas Workers' Collective rider Zeynep Karlıdağ last year about their wild cat strikes, and she told us that the conditions in the dark stores she operated out of were extremely poor.

"I don’t know the other companies warehouses but I can say for Gorillas that these warehouses are very small," she said. "We don’t have proper heaters in winter and during the summer we don’t have any proper air conditioner. They are small, with a lot of riders, pickers and warehouse managers inside, and we don’t fit. We have to wear these masks, and it is not easy to breath."

There are signs that dark stores are starting to attract the attention of lawmakers. In Amsterdam and Rotterdam, the local council has introduced a one-year freeze on any new dark stores, with four other Dutch cities looking to introduce restrictions on where dark stores can be established. That has brought about the ire of Berlin-based grocery delivery firm Flink, which said this week that they were "evaluating all options" in how to respond to this regulatory offensive "including legal action". They added that the Amsterdam and Rotterdam ban did not "meet the conditions of non-discrimination, necessity, and proportionality, in our opinion". 

A new report by the Parisian Urban Planning Workshop has argued that the legality of the French capital's 60 dark stores is questionable. A "storage function" is "prohibited in residential buildings" and the "transformation into a warehouse of existing premises on the ground floor facing the street is prohibited", the report states, adding that the Parisian local authority is now much less likely to permit new dark stores from opening.

Urban planning regulators are finally catching up with ultra-fast grocery delivery, and it's unlikely that the latter will be the winner, at least not in the long-term. For the likes of Gorillas, Flink, Zapp and Getir, defeat will mean higher costs and slower delivery times.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator


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Gig Economy news round-up

  • GLOVO AND UBER EATS FACE FINE IN ZARAGOZA OVER FALSE SELF-EMPLOYMENT: The Labour and Social Security Inspection is finishing an investigation into false self-employment in the Spanish city of Zaragoza, in a case that involves more than 3,000 riders of Glovo and Uber Eats. The investigation is the largest so far in the Aragon region and was carried out over three years, from 2018 to 2021. The investigation is part of a larger one being carried out by the Labour Inspectorate across Spain. The fines could be worth €14 million if the infraction is confirmed. Glovo continues to hire workers on a self-employed basis, despite the introduction of the Rider's Law in August last year. The Labour Inspectorate has been investigating food delivery platforms in Spain for false self-employment since 2018. Read more here.
  • TAXISTAS JOIN MADRID PROTEST AGAINST OMNIBUS LAW: A march of taxis drove through the centre of Madrid on Saturday [26 February] against the regional government's 'Omnibus' law, which modifies more than 50 legal texts and was introduced as an emergency law in the middle of the christmas holidays, leaving little time for opposition councillors to oppose it. Taxi drivers fear the law will open up the city even further to Uberisation, with the Community of Madrid President Isabel Diaz Ayuso recently speaking favourably about the US ridehail giant at an event in Madrid. Ayuso is facing a public prosecutor investigation into alleged corruption, after she admitted that her brother had received remuneration for a contract the Community of Madrid had with Priviet Sportive for PPE at the height of the pandemic crisis. Read more here
  • ECJ: SPANISH DOMESTIC WORKERS SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS: The European Court of Justice has found that Spanish domestic workers should not be denied access to social security benefits, in a historic judgement. Domestic workers are the only sector in Spain which cannot access basic social protections, a discrepancy which has been a major problem in the pandemic, when many have found themselves out of work. 95% of domestic workers in Spain are female, and the verdict found that the Spanish social security regime puts "female workers at a particular disadvantage with respect to male workers and is not justified by objective factors unrelated to any discrimination based on sex". Spain has one of the largest platform care markets in Europe, with platforms like Cuideo offering domestic work services. Read more here
  • RIDERS STRIKE IN KENT OVER PAY: Riders from Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats in Kent (UK) took strike action on Friday [25 February] over reductions in pay. A group of 45 riders in the town of Folkestone were the first to take action, and were later joined by 40 to 50 riders in nearby Ashford after they heard of the Folkestone strike. Speaking ahead of the strike, Just Eat rider Vio said: "It used to be £7.50 for between 2.5 and three miles. Now it's £6. It's quite a lot less. They didn't tell us they were changing the pay." Vio added that with the rising cost of living they were struggling to "survive". Just Eat said of the strike that they take riders' "concerns seriously". Read more here
  • GORILLAS AIMS TO RAISE ANOTHER $700 MILLION: Berlin-based ultra-fast food delivery company Gorillas is looking to raise an additional $700 million in another funding round, CEO Kagan Sumer has said. Gorillas raised $1 billion in October and is valued at $3 billion. In a statement on Friday, Sumer said: “Last year, we not only built Gorillas into the clear pan-European leader, but also demonstrated a clear path to profitability across our markets.” Gorillas, which launched in 2020, is competing with a number of other European rivals, including Flink, Zapp and Getir, which are also looking for venture capital funding to expand rapidly and grow market share. The company fired over 200 workers in Berlin on mass last year after a wave of wildcat strikes, with workers demanding improved working conditions. Read more here.

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.

In GEP this week

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French union and MEP call on parent company La Poste to intervene in Stuart Delivery dispute

The pressure on Stuart Delivery to give in to its striking workers demands for a pay rise has been intensified.

From around the web

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Gig companies are disguising exploitation as social justice

Akil Vicks writes in Jacobin on the consequences of Prop-22 across the United States.

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An NFT bubble is taking over the gig economy

Chris Stokel-Walker writes in Wired on the links between NFTs and gig work.

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What economic rights should workers have to our own data?

Summary of a recent talk by IT for Change director Parminder Jeet Singh on workers' data rights. 

Upcoming events

Fair Work Germany will announce its ratings on the German platform economy at an event on 1 March, click here for full details and to register.

The Wage Indicator Foundation will hold its latest even on the gig economy on the issue of pay. 'Gig Work: grip on pay' will be held on 25 March. For full details and to register, click here.

The 'Uberisation and digitalisation of work' conference at the 'Universidad de la República Uruguay will take place on 14-15 April in Montevideo, Uruguay. More details here (in Spanish). 

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

Get Involved

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.

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