Ben Wray – Italian Union Hails Court Victory over ‘Discriminatory’ Deliveroo Algorithm

A Bologna court has ruled that a ranking-based algorithm used by food delivery platform Deliveroo is in breach of labour rights, in a verdict that has been hailed as an “epoch-making turning point” by an Italian union leader.

Ben Wray is a freelance journalist leading BRAVE NEW EUROPE’S Gig Economy Project.

This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in the EU was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Foundation Menschenwürde und Arbeitswelt  

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Photo by by Roels Wijnants

The 31 December ruling by the Labour section of the Court of Bologna upheld an appeal presented by three unions, Nidil CGIL, Filcams CGIL and Filt CGIL, finding that the ‘Frank’ algorithm is “discriminatory” because it penalises against those absent from work without taking into account the reason, such as illness or being on strike.

Tania Scacchetti of the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL) hailed the decision as an “an epoch-making turning point in the conquest of trade union rights and freedoms in the digital world”.

Scacchetti added: “For the first time in Europe, a judge establishes that ‘Frank’ is blind and therefore indifferent to the needs of riders who are not machines, but workers with rights.

“The reputational ranking downgrades in the same way, without any distinction, both those who are absent for trivial reasons and those who abstain from delivery due to illness or to exercise the right to strike.

“The judge therefore considered that the evaluation model adopted by the food delivery platform was the result of the “conscious choice” of the company to privilege the availability of the rider, without ever considering the reasons for his possible failure to connect to the platform because as the Court says: ‘When it wants, the platform can take off the blindfold that makes it ‘blind’ or ‘unconscious’ with respect to the reasons for the lack of work by the rider and, if it does not, it is because it has deliberately chosen it’.”

Deliveroo, a British-owned delivery platform which has faced boycotts by riders in the UK over plummeting rates as well as criticism over the adequacy of its support for riders who have contracted covid-19, will now have to pay €50,000 in compensation to the claimants and publish the Court’s decision on its website and in its FAQ’s section.

Matteo Sarzana, general manager of Deliveroo Italy, said: “We take note of the judge’s decision that we do not share, and that refers to a system of booking rider sessions that is no longer in use”. Sarzana said the company will consider whether to appeal the verdict.

One of the lawyer’s operating on behalf of the three unions, Carlo De Marchis, said that because there was “no specific rider behind the lawsuit” the verdict was “even more disruptive, because it applies to all riders”.

“By booking a session, it was obligatory to geo-locate oneself in the area of competence shortly before the beginning of the shift, and those who did not do so without cancelling a day in advance dropped in the ranking,” De Marchis explained. “The judge emphasises that adherence to an initiative of collective abstention from work is likely to affect the rider’s statistics.”

Another important legal case lodged by leaders of the App Drivers & Couriers Union, which organises Uber workers in the UK, in the Netherlands last July demanding access to the company’s algorithm and explanation of algorithmic management is still awaiting a verdict.

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