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This week saw a particularly tragic example of the inhumanity of automated algorithmic decision-making. Following the death of Sebastian Galassi, a 26 year old rider for Glovo in Florence, Italy, in a road collision while working, his family made public that almost 24 hours later he had received an automated e-mail from the Spanish food delivery platform with the message: “We are sorry to have to inform you that your account has been deactivated for non-compliance with the Terms and Conditions”.

Following Galassi's death, there was a one-day riders' strike in Florence on Wednesday [5 October]. You can read more about it in our full report here. Galassi's death at work is by no means the first, there was another just a few weeks ago in the Italian city of Treviso, and one wonders if the only reason this tragedy has received the attention that it has is because the family took the decision to publicise Glovo's post-humous robo-firing. 

While there are no figures available for rider deaths in Europe, a 2018 University College of London study found that 42% of riders say their vehicle had been damaged while working. Ten per cent say someone had been injured in an accident while working, 8% themselves and 2% someone else. Seventy-five per cent agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, ‘there have been occasions while working where I have had to take action to avoid a crash.’ By any estimation, this is a very dangerous job.

And it is not just the fact of being on the road which makes it dangerous. The same study found 47% felt time pressure made them travel over the speed limit, and 41% said the app had distracted them while they were driving or cycling. The demands for speed and responsiveness from the delivery platforms is not conducive to riding safely.

Furthermore, because anyone with a bike or a moped can log-in to Glovo, Deliveroo and most of the other apps with an extremely light 'on-boarding' process, there is no training about rider safety. Sixty-three per cent of riders told the UCL study that they were not provided with training on managing risks on the road, 65% said they were not given any safety equipment such as high-visibility vests, and 70% had bought their own safety equipment. Only one in four riders agreed with the statement that the company cares about their safety whilst working.

"There is no risk management by the people who broker courier services," report authors, Dr Nicola Christie and Heather Ward, state. "These faceless digital brokers take no responsibility for the health and safety of the people who accrue income for them."

The report goes on to make a series of safety proposals, including that riders should be paid for their general time at work rather than per delivery, there should be functionality in the app not to distract riders while they are driving/cycling, the company should have local reps to ensure that all riders have road-worthy vehicles and are safety trained, and that riders should not be incentivised with higher rates to ride in poor weather conditions. As far as we know, food delivery platforms have not integrated any of these proposals to date, and government authorities have not enforced them.

When examining the gig economy we can get caught up in income, employment classification, etc, but actually the most important issue of all is the safety of the workers. This is what riders are themselves most concerned about. The union CCOO Catalunya did a survey of riders to find out what they need help with. The three top needs were training on road regulations, bicycle repair and maintenance, and information on migrant labour rights. It's incumbent on everyone working in or on the gig economy to make rider safety a key part of the discourse, and not only in the days after a tragic incident like that of Sebastian Galassi's death.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

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Gig economy news round-up

  • UK BOLT DRIVERS TAKE COMPANY TO COURT FOR FALSE-SELF EMPLOYMENT: More than 1,600 Bolt drivers are taking the company to court on a false-self employment charge. The law firm Leigh Day is working with the IWGB union in pursuing the claim. The UK Supreme Court found that Uber drivers were employees, and Uber had to alter its business model in response (albeit without abiding by all of the Judge's ruling). Bolt, an Estonian multi-modal platform which has 65,000 drivers in the UK across 19 cities, has basically the same business model to Uber, but has not responded to the Uber ruling with any changes of its own, claiming that it was not relevant to the firm. Bolt said it was in their "interest" to provide to offer a model to drivers which "works best for them". Read more here
  • FAIR WORK CALL ON 'PEDAL ME' TO ABIDE BY COMMITMENT TO RECOGNISE UNION: Fair Work, the research-action project of the University of Oxford pushing for fairer work in the platform economy, has called on Pedal Me, the London e-cargo bike logistics platform, to abide by its commitment to recognise a trade union, after the IWGB union established itself among the company's workers. In a letter to staff in May 2021, Pedal Me stated that: "If a union was established and wished to negotiate with Pedal Me on behalf of Pedal Me staff then we would welcome this." Fair Work rates platforms on their commitments to a set of 10 fair work principles, one of which is to respect the trade union rights of their workers. In a tweet, Fair Work said: "This is a fantastic opportunity for Pedal Me to show that they are committed to fairness and support workers' right to have a democratic say in their workplace through collective bargaining".
  • DUTCH UNION WINS AGAINST DELIVEROO IN COURT AGAIN: Dutch union FNV has won a ruling in the Amsterdam District Court which requires British-owned delivery platform Deliveroo to accept that its riders must be included in a collective labour agreement for the transport of goods as employees. The ruling specifically concerns 12 Deliveroo riders who are now owed wage supplementary payments, in some of the riders cases going as far as back as 2016. The court ruling sets the stage for a likely victory in the Supreme Court next year, after which time there should be "a quick financial conclusion", says Anja Dijkman, project leader of FNV platform. FNV also called on the government to take action. While there is legislation in the Netherlands to tackle bogus self-employment, it has "not been enforced by the government for years," says Dijkman. Read more here.
  • BASQUE UNION SEEKS GLOVO RIDERS TO BE PART OF COLLECTIVE HOSPITALITY AGREEMENT: LAB, a union in the Basque Country (a nation in northern Spain and southern France), has said it will raise a collective dispute so that food delivery couriers at Glovo, the Spanish delivery platform, are recognised as part of the broader hospitality agreement in place in the country. The union will first take the case to the Labour Relations Council, and if no agreement can be reached, they will pursue the case in the High Court. Last week, the union filed a complaint with the UAE Public Prosecutor's Office alleging a crime for false-self employment. Over a year after the Rider's Law, Glovo continues to refuse to hire its riders as employees, despite having fines already totalling over the €150 million mark. Read more here.
  • GENEVA DRIVERS REJECT UBER BACK-DATED PAY OFFER: Uber drivers in the Swiss canton of Geneva have rejected an offer of 4.6 million Swiss Francs to cover back-dated pay from 2017 to June 2022, meaning the issue will now be settled in court. In May, a Geneva court found that Uber drivers in the canton were employees, and thus were entitled to salary arrears which, as well as social security contributions, must be paid by 15 October. Caroline Renold, the lawyer operating on behalf of the drivers, said that they were entitled to at least 12 million. Workers voted overwhelmingly to reject the offer and the unions said they expected to be able to access the individual data of each driver "in accordance with the law". Uber Switzerland said they were disappointed no agreement was reached and would "engage constructively" with the State of Geneva" to settle the matter. 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.

In GEP this week

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"My life is worth more than a sandwich": Strike in Florence after death of a rider

Unions organise 24-hour strike after death of a Glovo rider in Florence, who was automatically fired by the company almost 24 hours after the fatal accident.

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Archie Mellor, Rasmus Emil Hjorth: Why internationalism matters for food delivery organising

Archie Mellor from the IWGB couriers’ branch in the UK and Rasmus Emil Hjorth from the Wolt Workers’ Group in Denmark make the case for food delivery couriers sharing their experiences with one another across borders, after a meeting of British and Danish riders in September to discuss vehicle theft and what to do about it.

From around the web

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Resisting algorithmic control: Understanding the rise and variety of platform worker mobilisations

Lorenzo Cini examines platform work mobilisation outside traditional trade union structures in this research paper.

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Realising the opportunities of the platform economy through freedom of association and collective bargaining

New ILO study looks at avenues for platform workers across the world to organise.

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A Global Manifesto for Fairer Platform Work

Fair Work, a research-action project of the University of Oxford for fairer working conditions in the platform economy, have published their manifesto for fairer platform work and want researchers to sign it.

Upcoming events

- FairWork are publishing their ratings for transcription and translation platforms at a lunch event on Wednesday 12 October. See here for details and to register. 

- Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung are holding an event on 'Online Platforms, Platform Work and Platform Workers in Portugal, Romania, Spain and Germany: What can we learn from each other?', 13 October online. For full details and to register, click here.

- The 2022 Re-Shaping Work Conference will be held in Amsterdam on the 13-14 October. Read more here.

- GRESEA, the Belgian institute for alternative economic strategies which writes about the platform economy, will host an event in Brussels on 15 October titled 'Work is losing its mind: strategies, resistance and solidarity'. Click here for full details.

- On 25 October Uber whistleblower Mark McGann will give evidence to the European Parliament on Social Affairs

- Wage Indicator will host a webinar on 'Women in Gig Work' on 27 October. For details and to register, click here.

- A one-day symposium will be held at the University of Edinburgh on 31 October titled 'Re-imagining Platforms'. For details and to register, click here.

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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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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