Ben Wray – ‘We are Suffering Absolute Insecurity’: Gig Workers Announce 8 October Global Day of Action

App-based delivery workers from 12 countries around the world announced a global day of action for 8 October, and explained how they were suffering in the context of the pandemic.

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

Uber drivers, Glovo “riders” and other gig workers from Latin America, Africa, North America and Europe spoke at an online international press conference to announce the day of action, which has been organised to coincide with the start of voting in the Proposition 22 Referendum in California, seen as a key battleground internationally in shaping the future of labour rights for gig workers.

“We have had three international stoppages this year, and the one on 8 October is obviously going to be the strongest, because we have gone beyond continents, and joined hands with people in Europe, Asia and Africa,” Massi Martin, from the Digital Workers’ Group (ATR) in Argentina, said.

“Global workers are suffering a situation of absolute insecurity. Proposition 22 would leave a negative precedent for every delivery worker [if it were passed].

“The exploitation is global, the multi-nationals operate all over the world, and that’s why this day is going to be international.”

Martin explained that the pay of app-based delivery workers in Argentina had been frozen for two years, while inflation had risen by over 100 per cent, creating a situation where they had to work extremely long hours to secure a minimum level of income, which increases the likelihood of road accidents.

This was echoed by Ayoade Ibrahim, an Uber driver and trade unionist in Nigeria.

“We believed technology was supposed to be an advantage for us to make more money, but we aren’t making more money because of the methodology of these companies,” Ibrahim said. “People are dying on the job everyday, because they are working 18 hours, 20 hours a day.

“We have been co-ordinating ourselves with lots of strikes, lots of protests. With Uber and other delivery companies the situation is getting worse.

“If globally we are facing the same problem, there is a need for all of us to come together and fight with our allies.”

Felipe Corredor of RidersXDerechos in Spain, who the Gig Economy Project spoke to earlier this month, hailed the verdict last week of the Spanish Supreme Court in favour of Glovo delivery riders being employees, and said gig workers internationally can win.

“We are being ignored by the companies, but we have won in the judiciary – we have won 33 different trials, and we have won a ruling in the highest court of Spain. We have been doing this for years, and we are going to keep doing it.”

The Spanish Supreme Court verdict was picked up on by a number of gig workers in Latin America on the video call, who explained the numerous ways in which not having employment rights leaves them open to super-exploitation.

For instance, Javier Perez in Peru said that local supervisors of Glovo were demanding payment in return for unlocking their accounts so they are not deactivated.

“After the quarantine, there was not enough demand because there were so many people trying to work [on the Glovo app],” Perez said. “We don’t have an office to go to to raise our concerns. If that supervisor doesn’t like you they just take away your account. Many of us depend on this job right now because there is not a lot of work in Lima [Peru’s capital].”

Another common issue was the lack of company insurance for accidents, leaving delivery-app drivers needing to pay for health treatment out of their own pocket.

“One of our colleagues had an accident, he went to intensive care and I believe that was the last straw for him. Because the company didn’t want to hear about it. I went to Glovo to see what was happening, and they said they weren’t going to provide any money to help him,” Gabriel, a Venezuelan deliver driver also based in Lima, said.

He explained that the majority of delivery drivers in Lima were Venezuelan refugees, and had no access to another source of income.

“We are not independent contractors, we are practically slaves,” he added.

The Proposition 22 referendum is set to coincide with the US Presidential election on 8 November, but voting begins one month earlier on 8 October. If passed, the vote will overturn AB5, a new law in California that declared Uber and Lyft drivers must be treated as employees. The digital platforms have poured a record-breaking amount of money, $181 million, to over-turn AB5 (read more about Prop 22 on The Gig Economy Project here.)

“If they get there way they aren’t even going to pay half of the minimum wage here in California,” Isabel Ramos, a driver for Uber and Lyft for four years in California and member of the Mobile Workers Alliance, which represents a group of more than 19,000 drivers in Southern California, said.

“We want to set a precedent: Uber and Lyft can’t win their proposition 22 here, or anywhere else in the world.”

Workers from Italy, Germany, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil and Chile also spoke on the conference call, and confirmed they were joining the 8 October mobilisation. Organisers said that they expected action across five continents, with delivery workers in Japan also set to join.

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