Ben Wray – Basque Union Mobilises for Riders’ Rights ahead of 12 July Election

Although the Spanish Social Democrats have reneged on their promise to revoke neo-liberal labour laws introduced by the Right, riders and unions in the Basque Country organise to increase workers’ rights.

Ben Wray is a freelance journalist leading BRAVE NEW EUROPE’S Gig Economy Project. He also produces a morning newsletter called Source Direct on Scottish politics, which you can sign-up to here:

This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in the EU was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Lipman-Miliband Trust

Glovo riders in Pamplona, 2 July 2020. Picture courtesy of LAB

The Basque leftist union LAB held demonstrations on Thursday in Bilbao and Pamplona in defence of the rights of ‘riders’ (app-based delivery workers), pressing parties to stand up for those in the gig economy ahead of elections in the Basque Autonomous Community (BAC) next Sunday [12 July]. 

LAB announced that it had created a dedicated union organisation in Glovo, the Spanish digital platform known for its exploitative practices towards its riders, “so that we can have an official dialogue with the company and defend the workers’ rights”. 

The union has filed complaints to the Labour Inspectorate in the four ‘capitals’ of the Basque Country – Pamplona, Bilbao, San Sebastian and Vitoria – about Glovo, Deliveroo, and other digital platforms which do not recognise riders as employees, meaning they are offered no guarantee of hours nor health & safety protections. 

LAB has also given its full support to the Spanish labour organising platform ‘RidersXDerechos’ “for providing spaces to organise and fight for riders”.

“This pandemic has intensified the onslaught of neoliberal capitalism in a number of areas, such as the proliferation of digital platforms,” the union said, following the demonstrations. 

“During these months, when no one wanted to take to the streets, we saw on our streets what are known as ‘riders,’ offering basic services from one end to the other, carrying anything that goes into a box to homes.

“These workers have been forced into self-organisation because they have been left out of the general labour regulations and have therefore been without the offer of classical trade unionism.”

The ‘Riders Law’ and labour reform repeal

The protests come ahead of the much anticipated so-called ‘Riders Law’, currently being developed by the Spanish Government and anticipated to be formally introduced in the next few months. The consultation for the Bill ended on 22 June.

Yolanda Díaz, Podemos Minister for Labour and the Social Economy in the Spanish Government, is introducing the Bill, which is designed specifically to eliminate the category of ‘fake self-employed’; those falsely categorised as self-employed by companies which want to avoid tax and labour health & safety costs. 

The riders for Glovo and Deliveroo fall into this category. Various labour audits by regulators have found that they are to all intent and purposes employees of the digital platform, with very limited autonomy, having to work hours based around times of high demand, and are penalised by the platform’s algorithm if they do not work sufficient hours or at a sufficient speed per job. The Gig Economy Project has written in more detail here about the experience of riders working for such digital platforms during the pandemic.

It has been widely reported that the Riders Law will include measures such as a minimum wage, maximum working hours and minimum rest periods, contractual rights include health & safety and the right to union representation. RidersXDerechos have been involved in the development of the Bill.

While employment law is a matter reserved to the Spanish Parliament, the role of the Basque parties could be decisive in any vote in the Spanish Congress – in which the PSOE-Podemos coalition does not hold a majority – to pass the Riders Law. LAB called on parties ahead of the BAC elections on 12 July “to do what they can to give legal form to the demands of these workers and to protect them in any institutional space, such as the Bill under discussion in Madrid.” 

PNV, the conservative Basque nationalist party and the largest in the BAC, has six representatives in the Congress, while EH Bildu, the left nationalist force, has five. 

EH Bildu signed a deal with PSOE and Podemos in May to support an extension of the state of emergency during the pandemic crisis in return for the repeal of the neoliberal 2012 labour reforms introduced by the right-wing Popular Party, which weakened workers’ rights in Spain (read more here). The agreement saw a furious backlash from the Spanish Employers Association, and PSOE have since reneged, voting against the repeal of the labour reforms in the Congress’ “Reconstruction Commission”, alongside PNV.

“We hope that both the PSOE and the PNV will rectify their position,” Mertxe Aizpurua, EH Bildu’s spokeswoman in the Congress, said on Thursday. “Because if this is not the case, two things will become clear: that the word of PSOE has no validity and that they will be saving and supporting the labour reform of the PP”.

An election dominated by the economic crisis

The regional election in the BAC on 12 July – which includes the three Basque provinces of Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia and Alaba – is one of the first to be held in Europe since the pandemic crisis, and the debate has been dominated by the economic crisis. 

PNV has promised to “reduce job insecurity” in a region where 90 per cent of new contracts since 2013 are temporary, stating in their manifesto that they will implement “a Shock Plan to reduce temporariness in employment and partiality in working hours”. 

Those promises have been questioned by LAB General Secretary Garbiñe Aranburu, who said at a rally in Bilbao earlier in the week that “if we take into account the decisions taken after the crisis of 2008 or during the pandemic, it is clear: the defence of the workforce, the needs of the workers, are not on the agenda of this government.”

A General Strike in the Basque Country took place on 30 January (read more here) in support of a Social Charter for a dignified life including decent pensions, quality employment and higher wages, and Aranburu said those who supporter the Charter “must take the fight and the declaration for social change to the institutions on July 12”. 

GDP is forecast to fall by 8.7 per cent this year in the Basque Country, with 68,000 jobs lost. The unemployment rate has risen sharply since the pandemic to 13.7 per cent, with a fall in household consumption of over 10 per cent, according to official government data. 

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