Spain approved a law protecting delivery workers. Here’s what you need to know
Spain's move to recognize gig workers as employees has rankled companies, as well as some unions.
A controversial law regulating delivery workers, known as the Rider Law, was ratified by Spain’s cabinet on Tuesday. It requires online delivery platforms operating in the country to classify their couriers as employees, rather than independent contractors.
Despite the government’s efforts, many parties, including trade unions, are unhappy with the law. Some say it’s moving too slowly; others don’t want it at all. But what does it mean for the future of gig work both in the country and across Europe?
How did we get here?
Led by Spain’s Labor Minister Yolanda Díaz, negotiations first began last fall. The aim was to convert a Supreme Court ruling from September — which found that one courier working for Spanish delivery company Glovo was indeed an employee — into law.
After several delays and tense discussions, labor unions and business associations came to an agreement in March. Platform couriers were now to be reclassified as employees, and labor unions must be informed of how algorithms affect couriers’ working conditions.
“They are now considered as salaried workers and will enjoy all the relevant protections,” Díaz said in a televised address at the time.
No. The likes of the Unión General de Trabajadores (UGT) — a major Spanish labor union that participated in the negotiations with industry — and couriers’ collective Rider X Derechos say the new law is too soft on industry. Despite being ratified today, companies have three months to comply with the law, which the UGT believes is too long. Platforms will take advantage of the time to slim down their courier fleets before the deadline, it says.
Rider X Derechos believes the law is too narrow, since it only applies to couriers and not other gig workers — a wider scope was pushed off the table during negotiations. “We are again insisting that any new regulation is not solely focused on ‘riders’, as false self-employment goes far beyond our own sector,” the collective said in a statement in February.
Another courier collective, the Asociación Autónoma de Riders, opposes the law because it believes platforms will cut them loose in order to keep smaller payrolls. It sent a letter to EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit, asking him to intervene and stop the regulation from coming into force, but the Commission has little power to intervene in national labor law.
What are the companies saying?
The new law is indeed at odds with a business model that depends on a vast fleet of readily available, “flexible” couriers. Uber Eats warned that the law spells an end to Spain’s gig economy.
An Uber Eats spokesperson said the regulation will “directly hurt thousands of couriers who use food delivery apps for much-needed flexible earnings opportunities and made it clear they do not want to be classified as employees.”
“It will also impact Spanish restaurants that increasingly rely on delivery solutions to make ends meet,” the spokesperson added.
The company points to industry research suggesting that over 75 percent of the 30,000 platform couriers in Spain would lose their source of income. The Adigital report also claims restaurants would lose €250 million in additional revenue.
What does this mean for the EU?
With the European Commission’s initiative on platform working conditions coming up later this year, industry, labor unions and policymakers are closely following developments in the gig economy.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) has said the EU “must” follow in Spain’s steps, a sentiment shared by the likes of French MEP Leïla Chaibi, a vocal defender of platform workers’ rights.
Instead of looking to Spain, Uber points to its policy in the U.K.: following a supreme court ruling that declared Uber drivers are “workers” — a separate labor category specific to Britain with more rights than independent contractors but fewer than “employees” — the platform committed to giving its drivers vacation time and pension rights.
But the Commission’s digital chief Margrethe Vestager isn’t keen on implementing such a policy throughout Europe. “In my experience, discussions become extremely complex when you want to create a new category,” she told POLITICO in February.
Díaz, the labor minister, wrote a joint op-ed with Italy’s Minister of Labor and Social Policy Andrea Orlando welcoming the Commission’s upcoming initiative, and warned against coronavirus recovery measures that “fall into the error of promoting employment through precarious contracts and poor quality working conditions.”