Carmen Juares has been leading CCOO’s organising of a historic 9-day strike of Glovo riders in Barcelona. Speaking to the Gig Economy Project, Juares says that the big unions “need to be willing to step out of our comfort zone and innovate” to successfully organise in the gig economy.
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The Gig Economy Project, led by Ben Wray, was initiated by BRAVE NEW EUROPE enabling us to provide analysis, updates, ideas, and reports from all across Europe on the Gig Economy. If you have information or ideas to share, please contact Ben on GEP@Braveneweurope.com
This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in the EU is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust
It’s generally accepted that the big unions across Europe have been slow to respond to the gig economy. Among app-based food delivery workers (‘riders’) in particular, industrial action has mainly been organised informally by the workers themselves or through grassroots unions. This overwhelmingly young and precarious group of workers have been seen as either too difficult to organise or not worth the investment of time and money.
However, in Catalonia at least, that may be changing. CCOO is one of Spain’s two big unions, and it’s Catalan section has just organised the first official strike of riders in Spain. The nine-day strike of Glovo ‘dark supermarket’ riders, which began on Friday [27 August] and involved almost all of the 320 riders who work at the company’s six ‘Glovo markets’, is therefore a landmark moment.
Carmen Juares, General Secretary for New Labour Realities in CCOO Catalunya, has been leading the union’s efforts in organising riders in the Catalan capital. The Gig Economy Project spoke to Juares about ‘dark supermarkets’, the strike and the CCOO’s work in supporting the riders.
The Gig Economy Project: Dark supermarkets are a new phenomenon in the European food industry. Can you explain the working conditions for riders at these food factories?
Carmen Juares: First of all, it should be pointed out that, although the companies call them “supermarkets”, they are more like warehouses from which orders for the products that users purchase through the app are delivered. Assigned to these locations are delivery drivers whose job it is to transport the orders from each supermarket, and these are the workers who are on strike. They are salaried workers, hired through temporary employment agencies, who deliver the orders for the company.
They are delivery workers, or riders, who do not have access to the inside of the warehouse and whose working conditions are absolutely unacceptable. For example, the company makes it very difficult for them to use the toilet, so they have to go to a cafeteria or even urinate in a container.
In addition, they are forced to wait for a long time outside the supermarkets to receive their orders, often at bus stops, on benches in the street or in a doorway of a building. This fact often generates conflict within the neighbourhood, as neighbours do not understand that these workers are there for so long by order of the company.
The union believes that as a society we cannot allow these workers to have working conditions that are more typical of the 19th century than of the present day, even in companies that advertise themselves as innovative and modern.
GEP: Can you explain when CCOO began organising at Barcelona’s Glovo dark supermarkets and the process which led up to this strike announcement?
CJ: CCOO’s work in the digital platform delivery sector began a few years ago when we realised that this business model was spreading in Catalonia. First of all, we decided to ask ourselves what the needs of these workers were, so we set up a brief survey in digital format that we sent to the contacts we already had. The results showed that what they needed most was training on road regulations, bicycle repair and maintenance, and basic information on being a migrant and labour rights.
Based on this, we decided to organise, completely free of charge, workshops that included bicycle repair and maintenance, labour rights, road regulations, basic advice on migrant rights, etc., which we gave in several languages. Basically, what we did was to put the assets that already existed in the union at the disposal of these workers. The successful participation in these workshops, with more than 70 male and female delivery workers, helped us to penetrate this sector and to build up a bond of trust.
From then on, these workers were able to communicate to us the situations they encountered in their day-to-day work, transmitting their demands and raising doubts and initiatives. In this way, the union has gradually become a point of reference for many of these workers. Therefore, it was only natural that the day Glovo’s supermarket delivery workers decided to go on strike, they contacted our union to ask for our support.
GEP: The workers are employed by an outsourced temporary employment company, rather than by Glovo directly. What problems does this outsourcing create for the workers?
CJ: These workers are subcontracted through temporary employment agencies, which is a situation that the union has already denounced to the Labour Inspectorate. Specifically, we have filed a collective complaint, because we consider that their jobs are structural and not temporary, and therefore the use of this contracting model is not justified.
What this outsourcing does is to make workers’ conditions even more precarious. Clearly, what companies like Glovo are trying to do through this type of contracting is to distance themselves as far as possible from the responsibility towards these workers, in order to justify denying them, for example, access to a toilet, fresh water or a place to rest.
GEP: The 9-day strike takes place across three weekends at six dark supermarkets in Barcelona. How many workers do you expect to be involved in the strike and how disruptive do you expect the strike to be to Glovo’s operations in the city?
CJ: The total number of delivery drivers in the six supermarkets that Glovo has in Barcelona is around 320 people. There is a large majority of support among the collective for the strike call and therefore we hope that the activity of Glovo’s supermarkets in Barcelona will be halted on strike days. We should also bear in mind that the strike takes place at the weekend, which is when Glovo usually receives the highest number of orders.
GEP: Following the Rider’s Law entering into force on 12 August, there have been protests of riders at Glovo’s HQ and pickets outside restaurants and supermarkets against Glovo’s new model of fake-self employment. In response to the protests, Glovo has made a change to its algorithm which slightly improves the riders pay. You have seen these actions first-hand: Was the riders’ resistance important in giving confidence to the dark supermarket riders to take action?
CJ: To begin with, we must bear in mind that the salaried Glovo supermarket riders have been making their demands to the company for months now, and that they have been completely ignored by the company. This is not a mobilisation that started recently, but rather one that has been gaining momentum due to the company’s inflexibility.
Having said that, the mobilisation of the unpaid delivery workers, or “false self-employed”, which took place after Glovo introduced a series of changes on 12 August, has provided the impetus to initiate these actions and to put pressure on the company to finally respond to their demands and improve their working conditions.
GEP: How significant is this strike for the labour movement, given it is the first to be called since the Riders Law was introduced and possibly the first-ever official strike in the food delivery app sector in Spain?
CJ: First of all, we must point out that the group of employees who are starting the strike tomorrow are not affected by the Riders Act, as no one is disputing the fact that they are workers. As for the importance of this strike for CCOO, it is a key moment for us, as it is the first strike formally called within a digital platform delivery company, at least as far as we are aware.
We think that this strike opens the way to organise a sector whose workers suffer so many abuses and precariousness. And it shows that workers can also organise in a platform company. At the end of the day, what workers want is to have decent working conditions, wherever they work, and this strike shows that class unionism can also be used to organise workers on digital platforms.
GEP: CCOO are pursuing legal action against Glovo and Uber Eats for illegal employment practices following the introduction of the Riders Law. What would your message be to workers in the app based food delivery sector wondering if they should accept the new employment models of Glovo and Uber Eats or fight it?
CJ: In reality, it is not that these companies are introducing a new model, but that they continue to work with the same model of bogus self-employed workers. In the case of Glovo, they have implemented some minor changes to their platform, but which make the working conditions of these workers even more precarious.
My message to the workers affected by these changes is already known to them because we have been present at their mobilisations, and that is to continue fighting, to continue organising and that they have the support of the union to improve their working conditions. In fact, among the “false self-employed” workers who are currently protesting in Barcelona, we have several riders who are members of CCOO Catalunya. People who are clear that organisation is strength and that the union is the best instrument to improve their working conditions.
GEP: CCOO Catalunya is one of the first examples of a big union successfully organising precarious workers in the food delivery app sector. Do you have any advice to share about the best strategies to organise this group of workers?
CJ: From my point of view, I think that first of all we have to build on all the knowledge, experience and organising capacity that we have in a trade union like CCOO to do trade union action and to organise workers. But we must bear in mind that we need to be willing to step out of our comfort zone and innovate in the way we approach these workers. For example, there is no workplace, they often don’t know each other…. This means that we have to think of new ways of organising ourselves and reaching out to them.
For us in particular, it has worked very well to go out on the streets, to go to where the delivery people are waiting for their orders, to ask them directly what their needs are and to think about how we could respond to them. An example of this is the bicycle maintenance and repair workshop, which in a way was a starting point for us.
I think we should take every opportunity to tell them that we are a trade union of workers, that we know what their working conditions are and that they can contact us for whatever they need. Riders, whether they are employees or “false self-employed”, know that in CCOO they have a union that is on their side. It is an honour for us to be part of this struggle.