Lucas García Alcalde: There are lessons to learn from Getir’s Spanish exit 

For the past two years, Lucas García Alcalde has been reporting on Spain’s grocery delivery sector for ‘Business Insider’. Following Getir’s exit from Spain in July just two years after its entry, Alcalde writes for the Gig Economy Project about the company’s short but eventful time in the Southern European country, and what lessons might be learnt for workers, industry and government. 

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Picture by Herodotptlomeu

When Getir landed in Spain, it did so with great fanfare. It wallpapered Madrid’s buses and metro stops with its characteristic purple colour in an aggressive marketing campaign and launched huge discounts to attract new customers with free delivery. As for its delivery drivers, it trumpeted the fact that it came with employment contracts at a time when the rider law – the regulation that presumes the employment relationship between platforms and workers – had come into force barely a month earlier and was still generating a lot of media noise.

Getir was to revolutionise everything: people’s visits to supermarkets and the working conditions of delivery drivers, in a sector historically marked by precariousness and low wages. Almost two years later, there is hardly anything left and they have not managed to change either one thing or the other.

The ultra-fast delivery company left Spain last month, in a summer in which it has been drastically reducing its global footprint. This week it announced a new round of job cuts around the world that will affect around 2,500 people, according to reports in the international press.

But beyond the news about its business, many of which we are familiar with and which have been repeated not only in the world of delivery, but also in the startup world, such as mass redundancies or the disappearance and takeover of companies, Getir leaves behind a trail of malpractice that has either only come to light in the specialised press or has passed to the general public on tiptoes. 

READ MORE: As Getir’s empire rapidly shrinks, workers plot a global strike

The problems with the business model of Getir and the other grocery delivery platforms are the result of the slowdown in the injection of money by the big venture capital funds, the same ones that, after the pandemic, threw billions into businesses that promised almost anything and were far from being profitable. However, despite this, things could have been otherwise.

We now know that many of the grandiose claims about protecting their riders’ jobs was pure PR. In the last two years, I have followed these companies closely, not only Getir, but also Gorillas and GoPuff, and I have been able to talk to dozens of workers in the sector, both on the warehouse and office sides. In all of these cases there was a consistent theme; the inequality between blue collar and white collar workers. 

An example of this is the recent summer party that the delivery company Glovo celebrates every year, the Glovochella, imitating the colourful style of the Coachella festival where the finance or software teams had fun, while on the street the riders barely make ends meet and the fines by the Labour Inspectorate for irregularities in its labour model are piling up for the Catalan company.

But the differences between the office and warehouse parts of these companies go beyond invitations to parties or fruit in the office. To take another example, Gorillas paid its delivery drivers in Spain 100,000 euros less than what was budgeted from its German headquarters, while the salaries of office employees exceeded that budget, according to leaked internal documentation, as I published in Business Insider.

In the case of Getir, just over a year ago it carried out a round of secret, piecemeal layoffs at its headquarters to avoid the ERE (Employment Regulation Procedure) as required by Spanish law, according to several of those affected.

In Spain, when a company wants to lay off a large number of employees in a short period of time, it is required by law to initiate an ERE. This involves collective bargaining with workers’ representatives, which makes it more costly for companies to carry out such downsizing. In these negotiations, the trade unions come into play and the compensation to be paid to the dismissed workers is stipulated. In this case, Getir preferred to split and negotiate the causes of the redundancies individually. In addition, it tried to keep the rest of the colleagues from finding out about this practice, as the affected employees themselves claimed.

However, a number of employees sued the company for what is known in Spanish labour jargon as “ERE covert”.  This fact came to light and Getir and its PR team did everything they could to cover it up.

Moreover, during that summer, Getir also carried out a strategy to force the voluntary resignations of the warehouse workers, riders and pickers, as denounced by the affected workers themselves as well as by the UGT trade union.

According to their testimonies, the company punished them for unjustified reasons, including unilaterally changing their place of work from one day to the next more than an hour away from their homes, so that many workers finished their shifts after midnight, having to return home by public transport at night, which doubled their commuting time. Another of the company’s practices was to force them to deliver in the middle of summer with temperatures that exceeded 35ºC in Spain, in stifling overalls, according to several of those affected.

And as if that were not enough, Getir began to distribute among its workers – whom it calls Getirians, imitating the style of Amazon and its Amazonians – an internal guide setting out the rules for new recruits. As first reported by El Mundo, the guide establishes sanctions for workers who talk to the press without informing the company or leak internal information.

“It is possible that journalists, television cameras, photographers or other people outside our activity may ask you about the company,” the document states. 

“We remind you that, in order to deal with this type of media requests, we have a Public Relations department and specific spokespersons who are the only people authorised to do so,” it continues.

“Only through this channel can we provide you with up-to-date information about the company,” the document adds. The company then points out a series of instructions in the event that a journalist, cameraman, photographer or a third party outside the company asks for your opinion or attempts to record you.

READ MORE – Flink: As bad as Gorillas?

Moreover, if this happens, the company says, employees should ask which media and organisation is involved and immediately inform the public relations team. 

If they fail to comply with any of the things in the guide, the company threatens disciplinary action, including dismissal. 

In the warehouses, workers also had posters discouraging them from talking to the press with the same message as above and always directing them to their PR team. 

Paradoxically, in Getir’s last message to its customers in Spain, the company offered its customers a 15% discount to buy through Uber Eats, one of its rivals in the sector, and which still today maintains a system of autonomous delivery drivers.

The last two years have been particularly hard on the delivery sector, which was coming from a golden moment after the pandemic. Many precarious workers who had gone from pedalling for Glovo and others without any kind of job protection found stability and rights in companies like Getir. 

Now, despite attempts to regularise the sector and improve riders’ living conditions, the sector is once again a small jungle. Perhaps if the venture capital bubble had not burst, today the story would be different. Perhaps if the aim of these companies had really been to improve the delivery sector and reinforce the labour rights of thousands of people, they would have acted differently, no matter how many equality plans and collaborations with NGOs they announce.

The Gig Economy Project is a BRAVE NEW EUROPE media network for gig workers in Europe. Click here to find out more and click here to get the weekly newsletter.

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