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