The tension that exists between digital labour platforms and democracy was demonstrated by two stories from Spain this week.
First, Glovo, the largest food delivery platform in Spain, received by far its biggest ever fine from the Spanish Government for 'false self-employment'. You can read our report here to get the full story. The €79 million fine is unlikely to be the last, since it relates to activity before 'the Rider's Law' entered into force in August 2021. Glovo ignored numerous court judgements, including from the Spanish Supreme Court, demanding the firm employs its riders, and then ignored the Spanish Government when it put those legal verdicts on a legislative footing with the Rider's Law. There are ongoing investigations into Glovo since the Rider's Law was introduced, and indeed the €79 million fine only related to activity in Barcelona and Valencia - since then another fine of €9.3 million has been announced for fake self-employment in Zaragoza.
Total fines in Spain so far amount to over €150 million, which is not pocket change to Glovo, a company which reportedly made losses of €170 million in the first six months of this year. German multi-national Delivery Hero bought the firm on New Year's Eve of last year (in a move which was described by HSBC as "more like a bailout"), and buried in a recent company accounts is the warning that there could be an "outflow of resources" from Glovo due to the fact it faces more than 300 legal cases worldwide. One of those cases involves both Glovo and Delivery Hero, as the European Commission raided their offices in July as part of an anti-trust investigation. The Barcelona-based company has more legal troubles than Donald Trump.
All is not lost for Glovo, however. The problem with the Labour Inspectorate investigations is they take time, sometimes over a year per investigation. Glovo will appeal, which they will almost certainly lose but nonetheless that buys them more time. Meanwhile, they continue to operate on a self-employed basis which allows them to flood the streets with riders which they do not have to pay for waiting times, thus shortening delivery times, holding down wages and boosting their margins and market share. Time also presents Glovo with the possibility of a new government at the end of 2023, with a right-wing/far-right (PP-Vox) coalition the most likely outcome from such an election, according to current polls. Glovo can expect to have very favourable treatment from PP. The big €79 million fine may have been a win for democracy over platform capitalism, but the battle over the Rider's Law is far from over.
Secondly, Spanish private hire platform Cabify has responded to an unfavourable Decree Law in Catalonia by claiming to release Catalan politicians' passenger data in an advertising campaign aimed at discrediting the Law by way of a hypocrisy charge. Read our full report here. The Catalan law effectively limits private hire platforms ('VTCs', in Spanish) to operating limousines and passenger vans from 1 October, a move which Cabify does not appear to be willing to accept. The advert in question stated that “the same politicians who do not want you to use VTC have made 5,437 trips on Cabify", but in smaller lettering the advert states that by 'politicians' they mean anyone who took a Cabify "from/to the Ministry of Transport in 2022". And that could include anyone, including Cabify lobbyists, and in fact is unlikely to be a Minister at all, since they use government cars.
More significant than the inaccuracy of the advert is the fact that a platform could be so brazen about ostensibly using politicians' personal data in a political campaign to undermine those same politicians for passing laws which hurt their business model. And if a company is willing to display this on an advert, the mind boggles about how personal data collected on politicians (or civilians, for that matter) could be used in other ways to make them compliant. For a nation that has just experienced the Catalangate scandal, this is hardly something which is far-fetched.
Cabify's ad should re-open a debate about whether corporations should be allowed to retain and use our data in just about any way they wish, while users and workers have next to no access to their own data footprint. Given what we know about what platforms are willing to do, in Spain and elsewhere, relying on the benevolence of bandits seems criminally naive.
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator
Gig economy news round-up
- STUART DELIVERY FINE & SUSPENDED PRISON SENTENCE FOR 'CONCEALED WORK' IN FRANCE: On-demand logistics delivery company Stuart was given the maximum possible fine of €375,000 in a Paris court on Friday [23 September] for "concealed work". The fine was given in tandem with a €220,000 suspended sanction for 'Resto In', a Paris-based delivery firm which is defunct. The founders of the two companies were also given 18 month suspended prison sentences, €50,000 fines and five-year bans from running a business. The verdict follows a similar penalty for Deliveroo in a Paris court in April, with the judge also finding in this case that there was a significant relationship of subordination between the firms and the delivery couriers. The verdict could set the stage for La Poste, the French public sector-owned mailing company, to face future lawsuits, as Stuart Delivery is a subsidiary of La Poste. The prosecution claimed that La Poste was necessarily aware of the company's concealed work activities. Read more here.
- ETUC WARNING ON PLATFORM WORK DIRECTIVE: 'UBER'S STRATEGIES ARE WORKING': The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has warned that it has "the feeling that Uber’s strategies to avoid regulation are working" in relation to the draft EU Platform Work Directive which is currently working its way through the legislative process. The ETUC's confederal secretary Ludovic Voet has said that the EU Council's current discussions, being led by Czech Republic as the current president of the Council, "seem to be about how to complicate the reclassification of workers as employees", potentially increasing the number of criteria which have to be met before a platform worker can be considered an employee. Currently in the European Commission's draft proposal it is two out of five. The ETUC would like to see the scrapping of the criteria altogether so there is just a general presumption of employment, which platforms would be obliged to prove otherwise. The Czech's presidency is seen as a "red flag" as it could "unravel the text". Voet and the ETUC's General Secretary Luca Visentini have written a letter to the EU Council outlining their concerns and requesting a meeting to discuss them. Read more here.
- UBER, GLOVO AND BOLT FORM COMMON FRONT IN PORTUGAL: Three digital labour platforms have created the Portuguese Association of Digital Applications (APAD) to defend their interests in Portugal, as the country is set for legislative changes. Uber, Glovo and Bolt said in a press statement that they formed APAD to "aggregate and represent the main operators in the digital platform sector to develop activity in Portugal in the defence of their common interests". The establishment of APAD comes as the Decent Work Agenda, which could include an employment status for digital platform workers, is debated in the Portuguese Parliament, while the government is also considering legal changes to the private hire platform sector after receiving a critical report from the Mobility and Transport Institute (IMT) and the Mobility and Transport Authority (AMT) at the end of May. Read more here.
- BOLT THREATENS LEGAL ACTION IN CATALUNYA IF THEIR CARS ARE NOT ACCEPTED: Estonian mobility platform Bolt has said it will take the Metropolitan Taxi Institute (MTI) in Catalunya to court if it doesn't give a license to its drivers using cars with an artificial extension added on the back. The extension has been added as a way to get around the new Decree Law passed in the Catalan Parliament in July, which stated that all private hire vehicles (VTCs) must be over 4.90 metres long to be given a license to operate in Catalunya. The change was made to prevent VTCs from competing with taxis in the north-eastern region, limiting them to limousines and passenger vans as of 1 October. On the back of the artificial extensions it states: "It's not just a bumper, it's the new regulations that require VTC of 4.90 meters". Bolt's VTC General Director in Spain, Daniel José George, acknowledged that it was "ridiculous", but said that "technically, this vehicle is valid". The MTI, which grants VTC licences in Catalunya, has already said it will not accept Bolt's cars, with the President Laia Bonet saying they "will clarify the regulations" if necessary. Alberto 'Tito' Alvarez, leader of taxi union Elité Taxi Barcelona which was instrumental in getting the Decree Law passed, said he didn't think Bolt would get a license but "if they do, we'll park the cars directly on the Gran Via". Read more here.
- GLOVO AGREES SHOPPING CENTRE PARTNERSHIP IN SPAIN: Spanish food delivery platform Glovo has signed a deal with Klépierre, a company which manages shopping centres, for home deliveries from shops within its retail outlets, which in Madrid they promise will take less than 30 minutes. The 'Q-Commerce' agreement was hailed by Klépierre Iberia's General Director, Laetitia Ferracci, as "a perfect example of the synergy between the digital world and the physical space". As well as delivering from restaurants, Glovo has a grocery delivery arm which delivers from its 'dark stores' across the country. The platform's Q-Commerce Director, Borja Olazabal, said the agreement with Klépierre meant they "continue to make progress towards becoming the reference multi-category application in Spain". Read more here.
- FRENCH UNIONS WRITE TO GOVERNMENT WITH "REGULARISATION" DEMANDS: Following a protest last week in Paris of hundreds of undocumented food delivery couriers who had been fired by Uber Eats without notice, the unions and worker collective which organised the demonstration have written to the French Government asking them to revise a 2012 regulation so that undocumented migrants who work in the gig economy could be "regularised" in the labour market. The letter by Sud Commerces, CNT-SO and CLAP says that the 2012 regulation was made before the gig economy arrived to France, and excludes these workers because a payslip is required for proof of employment, which the app-based gig model does not provide. However, the letter adds, they are self-employed so can produce proof of payment. "We ask you to update the circular in question," the letter concludes. 2,500 undocumented migrants have been de-activated from the Uber Eats app in recent months, leaving many of them without any access to work and destitute. Read more here.
Is our news round-up missing important developments in the gig economy in Europe? Contact [email protected] so we can improve our service.