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Riding through the heatwave: When rights can be the difference between life and death

Whether you are experiencing it directly or watching on the news, you won't have failed to have noticed the heatwave scorching southern Europe this week. This is the new normal in our rapidly warming world, and for food delivery couriers it means the job is getting increasingly dangerous.

The ugly reality is that demand for food delivery shoots up during a heatwave. People don't want to expose themselves to the heat, and so would rather pay someone else to be exposed to it. Thus, the food delivery platforms apply pressure (if they are an employee) or incentives (if they are self-employed) on riders to keep working, despite the real risk of heat stroke, or worse.

And if you are a restaurant food delivery rider, there are few places to hide from the heat. Restaurants will often force riders to wait outside and prevent them from using the toilet. The motorcyclists suffer the most, as the heat of the engine, especially while stuck in busy traffic, can become difficult to bear. 

These are obvious occupational health risks, but there are no regulations in place which, for example, prevent platforms from assigning deliveries once a certain temperature is reached, or even ensure a specific number of breaks per hour in extreme heat, or require platforms' to offer cooling down and refreshment facilities, suncream or water. In fact, there are no specific obligations at all on platforms when the couriers are self-employed.

“When it comes to traditional workspaces, indoor workspaces, there are certain regulations that the workplace cannot exceed, for example, 26C," Oguz Alyanak, a FairWork researcher, told 'Sifted' last year. "Do we have those kinds of regulations or do we have a body that really monitors those kinds of regulations in the platform economy? I haven't come across one yet.”

In Spain, which has seen temperatures hit 45 degrees in parts of the south this week, the response of the French food delivery sub-contractor Stuart was to issue an email to riders titled: "It's time to get wet". The e-mail contained the platforms occupational risk measures for riders this summer, the main one being an app which gives the riders a map of public water fountains. The e-mail also promised bottles of water, but riders told 'EPE' that they hadn't been delivered yet.

A day later, the CGT union in Barcelona tweeted that it's works' council had managed to secure the delivery of the water bottles as well as a "pause between 5-10 minutes in the hottest hours". The vast majority of riders in Spain do not have any union representation to win basic improvements to their conditions.

Last summer, it took the death of a street sweeper in Madrid from heatstroke to prompt the city to establish some basic safety measures for those working outdoors. The Spanish Government introduced a new law regulating outdoor work in May, which includes its prohibition during weather warning alerts, when the protection of the worker's health cannot be guaranteed. Yolanda Díaz, the Spanish Government's labour minister, has said that this law does apply to the riders, which are supposed to be employed in Spain, but the majority remain self-employed because of the resistance of Uber Eats and Glovo to the Riders Law. Thus, they will not be able to access their rights under this new law. 

"Those of us who are hired have this occupational risk assessment," Fernando García, an employee of Glovo its grocery delivery section in Madrid, tells 'El Plural'. “Most of the false self-employed have neither a workplace nor a risk assessment or anything, they spend 12 hours a day in a row on the street without having access to a bathroom or a chair because the platform rules, the algorithm does not understand labour rights.”

It's thought that 4,800 deaths were attributable to temperature in Spain during the summer of last year alone. Whether any of these were riders, we do not know. But what we do know is that, whether it is road accidents, robberies, sexual harassment, racist violence, floods or heatwaves, riders are exposed to many more occupational health risks than most workers, but have many fewer protections from these dangers. Is there any better argument for workers' rights than the fact that they can be the difference between life or death?

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • FIRST TRILOGUE TAKES PLACE ON EU PLATFORM WORK DIRECTIVE: The first 'trilogue' negotiation between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council (which represents the member states) to hammer out a final agreement on the Platform Work Directive was held on Tuesday. The first talks were described as informal as each side feels out the others red lines. Thomas Göransson, international secretary for EU affairs at Swedish union Unionen, tweeted that the Council "stuck to its guns" in preparatory meetings for the trilogue, adding that "member states want to maintain the EU Council's version of the presumption of employment". Euractiv reports that European Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, who is responsible for the Directive on the Commission, will seek to bring the Council and the Parliament closer to the Commission's original text on the key issue of employment status, opposing "the Parliament’s broad-sweeping wording while avoiding the Council’s excessive reduction in scope". The Commission will also oppose the opt-outs for member-states which were a key feature of the Council's proposed text. The next trilogue is due to take place in September. Read more here.
  • 4 DAY GLOVO STRIKE IN BARCELONA FOR HIGHER PAY: A four-day strike by Glovo riders in Barcelona of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin began on Friday [14 July]. There is no official organisation behind the strike, although it is being backed by the CGT union, who say they are supporting it "out of solidarity". The riders are demanding higher pay, including a base rate of €2 and €0.50 per kilometre, €0.60 for deliveries over four kilometres. They also want a minimum bonus of €1.6 in cases of high demand. Pickets are expected at key restaurants and 'Metropoli' reports that "most of the sources consulted anticipate a great mobilisation". One rider, Khamar, told Metropoli: "We get up and start cycling in the morning, stop for an hour to eat and keep working until nightfall." Another rider, Hassan, proved that he has just made €3.60 for a 4.7 kilometre delivery. Read more here.
  • FOOD DELIVERY COMPANIES SIGN LETTER AGAINST 'GOOGLE TAX': A number of European food delivery platforms have joined hands with other digital platforms in opposing specific taxes on digital platforms, known as a 'Google Tax'. The letter was signed by Glovo, Just Eat, Delivery Hero (which owns Glovo) and Wolt, as well as platforms like Spotify and Booking, and was sent to all Eurozone finance ministers. Spain and France introduced taxes on digital platforms at the start of 2021 and end of 2020 respectively. The taxes hit the revenues generated in each country, rather than where the company is headquartered, so are difficult for platforms to avoid. The letter claims that they suffer a "disproportionate fiscal impact...when the income is already subject to Corporation Tax, Value Added Tax (VAT) and/or other unilateral tax measures in the same or other jurisdictions". The platforms warn that the tax will lead to higher prices for consumers and is "giving rise to trade tensions" with other countries. The taxes were introduced in lieu of failed attempts by the OECD to broker a global tax on multinational companies. Read more here.
  • GLOVO COURIER REJECTS SETTLEMENT IN FALSE SELF-EMPLOYMENT DISPUTE IN PORTUGAL: A worker who was a Glovo courier in Portugal for four years and had his account blocked by the Spanish food delivery platform after participating in a protest action has rejected an attempt by the company to settle out-of-court. The worker, of Brazilian nationality, is claiming he was illegally fired. The hearing at the Porto Labour Court is the first in a national court since the country introduced a presumption of employment in the platform economy on 1 May, and thus is a test-case. It's still possible that a settlement could be reached, with a second conciliatory hearing set for September. If there is no agreement then, the case will go to trial. Read more here.
  • TURKISH RIDERS AT GETIR SUB-CONTRACTOR RESIST "WAGE DISCRIMINATION": Riders working for Vigo, a sub-contractor of Getir in Turkey, are resisting a new pay policy which they call "wage discrimination". The riders, who are members of the Tourism, Entertainment and Service Workers' Union (TEHİS), issued a statement saying that on 7 July Vigo announced different wages for riders in different Turkish regions despite the fact that they "do the same work on the same conditions". "The only purpose of this differential pricing is to break the unity of the Vigo workers," the statement adds. The workers are demanding that all wages are set at the current rate of the Besiktas region, that "unfair deductions from wages are stopped", and that there are no reprisals for participation in the dispute. T. Kubilay Çelik, president of the TEHİS union, added in an interview that a large action took place on Thursday [13 July], adding: "If our demand for a raise is not accepted, we will continue with actions, closing contacts, and boycott calls." Read more here

In GEP this week

The urban dimension in food delivery struggle: The story of the Riders Union Bologna

This interview with Maurilio Pirone is available as a podcast or in written text form.

From around the web
AI, platforms and (human) workers’ rights

Gerard Rinse Oosterwijk, digital-policy analyst at the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, writes for Social Europe about EU regulation to control AI at work, including the AI Act and the Platform Work Directive.
Platform Work Directive trilogues: An opportunity to make a difference

A joint statement from a group of civil society organisations including the European Youth Forum about the Platform Work Directive, as the 'trilogue' negotiations kick-off.  
DoorDash is changing how it pays its 13 million gig drivers – and will let customers boost tips after deliver

Lancy Nuna reports in 'Insider' about the significant changes made by DoorDash, a US food delivery platform which owns Wolt in Europe, to its rider model, including the option to be paid by the hour and 'post-checkout tipping'.

      • Lancy Nuna reports in 'Insider' about the significant changes made by DoorDash, a US food delivery platform which owns Wolt in Europe, to its rider model, including the option to be paid by the hour and 'post-checkout tipping'.

Upcoming events

- The final report of the French Senate's Uber Files inquiry will be published on 18 July. 

- Fairwork's cloud work ratings will be published at a webinar on Thursday 20 July 4-5.30pm CET. For full details and to register, click here.

- Rabih Jamil will address a European Trade Union Institute online event on 'AI-powered taxi dispatching: what lies behind Uber's promise of free, unsupervised and autonomous driving experience', 27 July at 2-3pm CET. Click here for details and to register.

Know of upcoming events we should be highlighting? Let us know at

Get Involved

The Gig Economy Project is a media network for gig workers and we welcome contributions from workers, writers, academics, activists - anyone who wants to stand up for workers' rights in the gig economy.

If you would like to write for the site, discuss arranging an interview with GEP, or simply have information about developments in the gig economy in Europe you think we should be aware of, get in touch. 

Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at or send a direct message to the Twitter: @project_gig.

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There will be no Gig Economy Project newsletter on 23 July or 30 July as we take a summer break. We'll be back on 6 August. 
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