The agreement follows a critical Supreme Court judgment and the ‘riders’ law’ deriving from social dialogue.
A survey in 2018 by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre found that Spain led the European Union in the volume of work conducted via platforms, with 18 per cent of the working-age population involved. It is therefore no surprise that Spain is also leading the way—in court decisions and labour legislation—on how platform work is treated.
After several reports by the labour inspectorate and contradictory judgments by the courts, in September 2020 the Supreme Court finally ruled that platform workers were employees and not self-employed workers—and that, therefore, the labour and social-security rights applying to all other workers had to apply to them as well.
The Supreme Court reasoned that platform workers performed their jobs ‘strictly subject’ to the instructions of the platform. They lacked the ‘essential infrastructure needed to perform the duties of their activity’—not their mobile phone or bicycle but the computer programme developed by the platform. Nor did they enjoy real autonomy in determining schedules, because if a worker was not connected for a certain number of hours or did not take a certain number of orders they were penalised. In short, platform workers were subject to the management power of the platforms and were therefore employees, not self-employed.
After that ruling, a process of social dialogue began, which led to the approval of Law 12/2021, better known as Ley rider (the riders’ law). This presumes an employment contract between the worker and the platform, because the former is in effect subject to decisions stemming from the latter’s algorithm. The law is not so much a pioneer in content—the presumption of an employment contract had already been established in California—but in how it came about, via an agreement between the most representative trade union and employer organisations in the country.
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The path taken by Spain is being followed by the EU: in the European Commission proposal for a directive published last month, the presumption of an employment contract between worker and platform is also the chosen formula. And now this whole journey appears to be culminating in the signing of a first collective agreement, between the delivery platform Just Eat and the CCOO and UGT trade union confederations.
This is not the first agreement for platform workers signed in Europe: others have preceded it in Denmark and Italy. But it represents the first step in normalising platform work within the Spanish model of industrial relations and its labour market. More than 2,000 people whom Spaniards see on the streets with a food box on their back delivering meals on their bikes will, like thousands of other workers in the country, be covered by a collective agreement regulating their wages, working time and conditions.
Their annual wage is set in the agreement at €15,232, or €1,270 per month, to which supplements will have to be added for working at night or on holidays or for mileage if a worker uses their own vehicle. This comes in the wake of studies by the International Labour Organization showing that the primary concern among platform workers is income insecurity—income from the job tending to be below the minimum wage in many countries.
Also according to the new agreement, platform workers will have a maximum working time of nine hours per day. Two uninterrupted days of rest a week must be respected, including one Sunday per quarter, in addition to a guaranteed 30 days holiday per year. Currently their working time around the world usually extends beyond the standard averages of the country concerned, not infrequently exceeding 12 hours a day.
The mobile phone used by a worker to connect to the application must be provided by the platform, as well as all other work tools (vehicle and food box). If a vehicle is the worker’s own, then the platform must pay corresponding compensation. The costs of the tools are thus to be assumed by the platform, not the worker as in most countries.
The agreement in Spain further defines the open-ended contract as the prototype, with a fixed employment quota of 80 per cent—so temporary workers will represent no more than 20 per cent. Part-time contracting will also be possible but with a minimum of 12 hours on weekends and a minimum of 16 hours for the full week. Mini part-time contracts of meagre duration are thus not permitted.
Finally, the platform undertakes to respect the right to data protection and to inform workers’ representatives about the algorithm it uses to manage their work. A joint committee will be created, the ‘algorithm committee’, complying with the duties of transparency and human judgement in algorithmic decision-making, which have become the banner of protest by platform workers throughout the world.
It hasn’t been an easy road to reach this point, and it doesn’t promise to get any easier. But signing this agreement represents a milestone which shouldn’t go unnoticed. Those riders visible on the streets of Spain will now be workers who have rights.
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Luz Rodríguez is professor of labour law at the University of Castilla-La Mancha. Her latest books are Plataformas Digitales y Mercado de Trabajo (2019) and Tecnología y Trabajo: el impacto de la revolución digital en los derechos laborales y la protección social (2021).