Strike comes after thousands of customers deleted E-Food’s app in protest at plan to force all riders to become independent contractors
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Food delivery couriers are set to strike across Greece on Wednesday [22 September] against attempts by platforms to force them to work for the company on a ‘self-employed’ basis.
The 4-hour work stoppage, which will be followed by a 24-hour strike on Friday, comes after E-Food, Greece’s biggest app-based food delivery platform, sent texts to all of its riders ahead of the expiry of their 3-month contracts, stating “we would like to suggest and appreciate that it would be better to work as a freelancer, otherwise there is no possibility of renewing the existing contract”.
The e-mail went viral on social media and a #Cancel_EFood campaign led to thousands of customers deleting the app from their phones in disgust. Google users downgraded the apps performance from 4.5 to 1 star. The pressure on the company, which is owned by German multinational Delivery Hero which operates under different titles internationally, forced the company into a U-turn, announcing that the text was “incorrect wording”, and that they will give the riders the option of being an independent contractor or an employee. The riders are employed via sub-contractors.
E-Food’s profits soared during the pandemic, up 26.7% last year to €21.3 million.
Anger over E-Food’s move has spread to Wolt, another big food delivery operator in Greece, with #Cancel_Wolt trending, as the Finnish company also has plans to transition its Greek workers to independent contractors.
The moves by the food delivery companies comes just weeks after the centre-right New Democracy Government in Athens passed the ‘Labour Protection Act’, a series of reforms to labour laws which has been heavily criticised by opposition parties and trade unions as an attempt to destroy workers’ rights. The Act includes a “digital working card” so employers can monitor hours worked by employees in real time.
Yanis Varoufakis, leader of Greek leftist party MERA-25, has said the Act “formalises brutal working conditions”.
“The aim is to extend what the distributors are experiencing, the complete commodification of labour, to the entire labour market,” he added. “This is the dream of every employer since Chicago. The abolition of all labour rights.”
On gig work specifically, the Act seeks to clarify the distinction between employee and independent contractor in Greece for the first time, with Labour minister Manos Hatzidakis stating that a worker was now a “partner” if they meet all of four specifications: “are able to provide services on a competitive platform”, “are able to assign the work undertaken to third parties”, have the right to reject deliveries, and can connect and disconnect from the app whenever they want.
Responding to the E-Food backlash, Hatzidakis denied that the Act was the reason for E-food and Wolt seeking to shift their workers to a freelancer model.
“There was legislation – even under Tsipras [the former prime minister] – that allowed you either to be employed in these jobs or to be a freelancer. We have not changed that. This is the case all over Europe, with the exception of Spain,” he said.
“There are employees who want to be employed in these companies, for their own reasons, and others who want to be freelancers, also for their own reasons. I have met them and they have explained this to me.”
Syriza, the main opposition party, has promised to rescind Greece’s new Labour Act if it returns to power, and their shadow Labour Minister, Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou, said: “The truth is, as we had denounced in Parliament, that Article 69 of the Hatzidakis Law (Law 4808/21) establishes a presumption that the employment contracts of service providers on the platforms are not dependent labor. That is, it establishes a presumption that the distributors are freelancers and are not covered by labour law for their rights.
“This is the ‘regulation’ that Mr Hatzidakis has introduced for the benefit of the companies operating the platforms, because until the new labour law was passed, the reverse presumption applied, i.e. that service providers on the platforms provide dependent labour!”
Commenting, Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras said: “For the government of New Democracy, “protection” is the destruction of labour relations, the transformation of platform workers into “self-employed” without labour rights and the establishment of a presumption that allows platforms to exercise employer blackmail to convert employment contracts under the threat of unemployment.”
The four-hour work stoppages on Wednesday were announced following a mass meeting of workers in Thessaloniki on Monday morning which was said to have been attended by every E-Food rider in the city. The stoppages will include protests and rallies in Athens, Thessaloniki, Chania, Larissa and Patras from 12.00 to 16.00.