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In Spain, delivery riders’ law reshuffles deck for takeaway food market

Just weeks after Spain became the first EU member to give delivery workers labour rights, firms that employ them like Uber Eats or Just Eat are still struggling to adapt to a new law which may become a model for the rest of Europe.

A Glovo delivery worker rides in Barcelona
A Glovo delivery worker rides in Barcelona on February 4th, 2021. The "Riders' Law" came into force in August and seeks to regulate the jobs of food delivery riders. LLUIS GENE / AFP

As of August 12th when the law came into force, couriers who deliver food, mostly on bicycles and motorcycles, must be recognised as employees instead of being considered self-employed freelancers as before.

This means app-based food delivery firms have to pay employee contributions for benefits like sick leave and protections against dismissal.

The firms say the so-called “Rider Law” — which only applies to food couriers and not other gig workers — threatens the 700-million-euro ($850 million) industry in Spain.

The reform has prompted some platforms to seek legal loopholes while others have entered into talks with unions.

Unions argue the law has improved the lot of couriers, whose numbers have exploded in recent years in Spain to around 30,000, according to industry associations.

“All these people now have social protection,” said Carlos Gutierrez of the Workers Commission (CCOO) union.

Ruben Ranz of the UGT union agreed, saying the law “is an important improvement for delivery riders whose working conditions have been very precarious.”

“But we must remain vigilant because there are still problems to be resolved,” he added.

Portugal’s leftist government followed Spain’s lead and earlier this month approved a similar draft bill that will order app-based food delivery firms to employ couriers as staff.

READ ALSO: OFFICIAL: Delivery riders become company staff as Spain’s labour reform kicks in
READ ALSO: Spain to become first EU country to ensure delivery riders are salaried staff

Scattergun approach
British firm Deliveroo announced in late July — just days before the “Rider Law” was due to take effect — that it would be pulling out of Spain.

Deliveroo’s departure is still being finalised, with the company initiating a “collective redundancy procedure” involving 3,871 people, Ranz told AFP, saying the conditions were not yet clear.

The move came even though Spain is one of Europe’s most dynamic home delivery markets with 4.7 million registered users by the end of 2019, a 40 percent jump over the previous year, according to research firm Afi.

Just Eat, a rival British firm that has been in Spain for 11 years and said it backed the reform, has opened talks with unions on reaching what its Spanish head Patrik Bergareche said would be the sector’s “first collective bargaining agreement”.

Californian giant Uber Eats, by contrast, has opted for a sub-contracting approach whereby drivers using its platform are employed through intermediary logistics firms, such as Closer Logistics, Deelivers or Delorean.

Although the firm insists its approach is in line with the so-called “Riders’ law”, unions have been critical, accusing it of “illegally dismissing workers” and insisting that “platforms should have their own staff”.

But the harshest criticism has been reserved for Barcelona-based Glovo, which in April raised 450 million euros and said it would take on 2,000 delivery workers for its own online supermarkets or for companies with which it has inked deals.

But its other food couriers that deliver meals from restaurants, who number between 8,000 and 10,000, will remain self-employed.

‘Play for time’
The group, which did not respond to AFP’s request for comment, has put in place a new rule that is supported to reinforce their autonomy: couriers can connect as and when they like and will not be penalised for refusing an order.

The aim is to cut out any direct relationship with the drivers as “a way of getting around the law”, explained CCOO’s Gutierrez.

“They’re looking to play for time,” agreed UGT’s Ranz.

The two unions have referred the matter to the labour authorities, which may take legal action — a move that will bring more uncertainty to a market already gripped by turmoil.

In recent weeks, two more new players have entered the fray: Turkey’s Getir and Amsterdam-based Rocket, which will begin operating next month. Delivery drivers at both firms will be counted as staff.

“Clearly we are in a rather chaotic time when everyone is jostling for position within a market which is in full swing and where huge sums of money are being invested,” Deelivers founder Adrian Pena said in a recent article.

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WORKING IN SPAIN

What do Spain’s labour laws say about working in extreme heat?

Is it legal to work in extremely hot conditions in Spain? Are there temperature limits? And does existing legislation apply to both indoor and outdoor work? Here's what workers in Spain need to know about their rights in this regard.

What do Spain's labour laws say about working in extreme heat?

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez confirmed that Spain’s 10-day heatwave has left “more than 500 people dead”

One of these was a street cleaner, who died while working in Madrid on Friday July 15th as a result of heat stroke in temperatures over 40°C. 

Working in sweltering conditions is not only very difficult but can be dangerous too, so what are your rights as an employee and what does Spanish law say about working in extreme temperatures?

Working indoors

In indoor workspaces, where people are seated such as in an office, the law states that the temperature must be between 17°C and 27°C. 

And in those indoor workspaces where light work is carried out and people are moving around most of the time, it must be between 14°C and 25°C.

That means that legislation on working in extreme temperatures applies to both hot and cold weather.

The law also states that the humidity should be between 30 and 70 percent, except in places where there is a risk of static electricity, in which case the minimum should be 50 percent.

Spain’s Royal Decree 486/1997 annex V also states that there should be fresh water available in the workplace for all employees.

As the law was created in 1997, there are no such temperature limits set for remote workers or the self-employed (autónomos) who may not be able to keep their home office below 27°C if they don’t have air-conditioning.

READ ALSO: Ceiling fan vs air con in Spain: Which offers the better price-coolness ratio?

Working outdoors

It’s usually those who are working outdoors who are most affected by the heat, but surprisingly there aren’t any specific laws in Spain about working in extreme temperatures outside.

“There is no rule that establishes temperature limits to work outside,” confirms José de las Morenas, Secretary of Occupational Health for Spain’s General Union of Workers (UGT). 

However, several other experts, including Carmen Mancheño – Secretary of Occupational Health of one Spain’s main trade unions CCOO, agree that Spain’s Law on Prevention of Occupational Risks is enough to protect those working outdoors.  

Article 21 of this law states: “The worker will have the right to interrupt their activity and leave the workplace, if necessary, if they consider that said activity entails a serious and imminent risk to life or health”.  

Working in extremely hot conditions outdoors is definitely considered a health risk, meaning that workers are allowed to stop when they feel the heat is too much and it’s affecting their health. 

It’s worth keeping in mind though that lawyers say that this law is rarely resorted to and has to be completely justified.  

There may not be any set temperature limits for outdoor workers, but the law states that companies who are employing people to work outside must provide free equipment to protect them from the sun such as a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

They must also make sure there are places to rest in the shade, allow breaks when necessary and ensure employees are not working during the hottest part of the day.

On Tuesday July 19th, after the death of the street cleaner in Madrid, several city employers, as well as workers’ unions (CCOO, UGT and CGT), agreed upon a plan of action for outdoor workers during a heatwave. 

They have established three alert levels. Normal temperatures will indicate a green level, where companies must provide basic protection.

If temperatures rise above 36°C a yellow warning will be issued and shifts will change to the evening when it’s cooler.

Air-conditioned vehicles will be used and those who don’t have air-conditioned vehicles will have 10-minute breaks every hour to cool down. 

If temperatures rise above 39°C, an orange alert is issued meaning those who carry out manual labour outdoors will have shifts cancelled or changed to later and workers must go in pairs, never alone. 

What can I do if I feel it’s too hot to work and it’s affecting my health?

If you’re working indoors, it should be easy enough to check what the temperature is and ask your employers to increase the power of the air conditioner, thus cooling the air to less than 27°C. 

If you are a remote worker, you should check how hot your home office or lounge is and inform your boss if you feel it’s over the limit and it’s affecting the way you work. If you don’t have an air conditioner or an adequate fan at home or can’t afford one, it may be a reasonable request for your company to be able to provide a fan for you to work at home. 

For those working outside, it’s important to speak up if you feel unwell and let your employer know if you feel that the extreme heat is putting your health at risk. Make sure you are provided with all the necessary equipment and are given enough breaks with plenty of water and shade. 

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