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In Barcelona, Uber cars are being towed away

An interesting video emerged on social media this week of a Portuguese tourist in Barcelona:

"I was on my way to the airport in a car from the Uber application. Then they stopped us at a Guardia Urbana checkpoint...Apparently the vehicle I was traveling in did not have the proper permit, so they immobilised it right there to take it to a warehouse! They had to stop a taxi that was passing by to take me to the airport and not miss my flight. In the end, everything turned out well, but...”

As a reminder, the Catalan Government passed a law last year effectively banning drivers using private hire platforms like Uber, Bolt and Cabify from operating, unless they are doing so through a limousine or passenger van. The new law came into effect on 1 January 2023. Inevitably, as the New Year passed, the platforms responded by ignoring the law and continuing to operate its apps in Catalonia.

Elité Taxi Barcelona, the largest taxi union which was instrumental in the passing of the new law, were ready for this, organising a picket at Sans train station to identify private hire vehicles (VTCs).

"What you are doing is illegal from day one," taxi drivers said to one driver at the station, according to 'La Vanguardia'. “The fine is €4,000, and they will put it on you; not to Uber, but to you, do you understand?"

"They changed my car and they told me that I could work with it without any problem,” the driver responded.

With Elité Taxi threatening to organise a series of protests unless 'Gaurdia Urbana' crack down on the rogue operations, the municipal police soon responded. The Portuguese tourist's experience is just one of many cases of passengers that have now been left on the road-side, as police check points stop VTCs, before a tow-truck comes to take the cars away to the municipal warehouse, which is presumably getting quite full by now.

"We are satisfied and calm," Alberto 'Tito' Álvarez, leader of Elité Taxi Barcelona, said about the enforcement measures.

How all this will turn out is yet unknown. The private hire platforms are apparently of the belief that the Catalan law will be deemed illegal by a European court, and they will be back to (legal) business in Barcelona soon enough. Either way, it is something quite exceptional to see corporate power challenged in this way by the determined efforts of taxi workers and their unions to maintain decent working conditions in alliance with local politicians. 

One just has to look at the recent Uber strikes and protests in New York to see how things could be in Barcelona. Uber and Lyft drivers in the US city now earn less than taxi drivers, who have themselves seen their pay and conditions massively degraded since Uber first 'disrupted' the industry in New York in 2011.

"As riders and drivers embraced the apps, the taxi industry plummeted," a New York Times report finds. "Taxi owners, many of whom had borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy medallions at an inflated price, were drowning in debt. In desperation, some were pushed to suicide."

A liberalised public car transport market is a race-to-the-bottom for all drivers, whether VTC or taxi. Catalonia's attempt to limit VTCs and support taxis with a public app is a living, breathing alternative to Uberisation. 

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • RIGHT-WING MEPS CHALLENGE EU PARLIAMENT PLATFORM WORK DIRECTIVE MANDATE: The European Parliament Employment Committee's mandate to negotiate the Platform Work Directive with the EU Council is being challenged by right-wing MEPs who believe it is "severely unbalanced" on the question of employment status for platform workers. MEPs on the Employment Committee overwhelmingly supported a proposal in December which backed a presumption of employment status in the EU's platform economy, but if enough MEPs challenge the position it goes to a plenary debate and vote of the whole parliament. That is what is set to happen, after an e-mail seen by Euractiv from Sara Skyttedal, an MEP in the European People's Party (EPP) group, stated that the Employment Committee's position would see "tens of thousands of genuinely self-employed persons that utilise the internet to find clients presumed to be employees". This line, which the platform lobby has been pushing, has been rejected by supporters of the Employment Committee's, including EPP Employment Committee chair Dennis Radtke. Skyttedal has enough support from MEPs to force the plenary debate and vote, which will take place on Thursday 19 January. Read more here
  • GLOVO TO ALLOW RIDERS TO SUB-CONTRACT THEIR WORK: Glovo, Spain's largest food delivery platform, has introduced yet another controversial policy as it is set to allow its riders to sub-contract their work to others. Merca2 reports that the company, which is owned by German multi-national Delivery Hero, claims that it is introducing the policy as a means to tackle the widespread and illegal sub-contracting of accounts to mainly undocumented workers, who sometimes take less than 50% of the earnings from their work with the rest going to the account holder. The details of Glovo's new policy are not yet clear but trade unions have already denounced it, with Luis Javier Prieto Orallo of the CCOO union saying that Glovo's operation was already illegal due to their use of freelancers and lack of compliance with the Spanish Government's Rider's Law, but this new subcontracting policy "could be illegal as well". Orallo said that the sub-contracting policy would create problems for self-employed riders in terms of social security payments and invoicing, since it will not be clear whether they have done the work or someone else has. He said the union would be examining "the control that they are going to have in this subcontracting of accounts". Read more here
  • GETIR PAYS BELOW THE MINIMUM WAGE, BARCELONA RIDERS SAY: Turkish grocery delivery platform Getir refuses to update the courier agreement, meaning workers are earning below the monthly minimum wage for full-time employees in Spain, Barcelona riders have told Metropolí. The riders in the Catalan capital say that the 2019 to 2021 courier agreement should have been updated with a new agreement from 2022 to 2025 which would have increased the monthly income to  €1,025 per month, but have refused to do so. The updated courier agreement would also provide a €10 bonus for working on Sunday and increased the number of hours available for going to the doctors per year to 20. The riders, speaking under condition of anonymity, also say that they are told they cannot speak to the media, that they have to carry more weight in their bags than is stipulated, some workers have still not received warm winter uniforms, and do not always receive the minimum rest between shifts. The riders complain that the management refuse to engage in dialogue over these issues. Getir bought Spanish grocery delivery platform Blok in 2021, and now faces no major grocery-specialist competitors in the Spanish market after purchasing Gorillas at the end of 2022. Read more here
  • "DELIVEROO OF FASHION REPAIRS" RECEIVES FUNDING BOOST: Sojo, a London-based on-demand tailoring platform, has received $2.4 million in a new funding round. The company, launched in January 2021, has been dubbed the "Deliveroo of fashion repairs" as it operates a gig economy model of independent seamsters who work on-demand and set their own prices, with Sojo taking a 30% commission. Couriers deliver and pick-up the clothes from the seamsters. Sojo started off with a consumer focus but is increasingly getting contracts on a business-to-business basis, signing a deal with major fashion brand Ganni as well as other brands. As it expands, Sojo, which started off as a one-person operation of its 24-year-old owner Josephine Philips, is now looking to outsource its couriers and bring some of its seamsters in-house, and is even looking at a seamsters equivalent of "dark kitchens". Read more here
  • 5,000 TAXIS PROTEST IN MADRID AGAINST "UBERISATION": A massive protest of taxi drivers took place in Madrid on Thursday [12 January] against the Community of Madrid's new law which the taxis say will lead to the "Uberisation" of the sector in the Spanish capital. The 5,000 taxis which joined the protest makes up around one-third of every taxi in the city, with the imminent introduction of the new law sparking fury. Under the new stipulations, the maximum number of private hire (VTC) licenses will increase from three to 50 per person, there will be no limit on working hours nor any restrictions on what rates can be charged. Julio Sanz, president of the Madrid Taxi Professional Federation (FPTM), said: "We are not going to allow a text like this to go ahead." The period for debate over the regulation ends on 19 January, and while Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the right-wing president of the Community of Madrid, has said she wants to reach a "consensus", unions say no talks have been forthcoming. The Community of Madrid's reform is widely considered to be the most liberalising out of any in Spain's autonomous communities, the majority of which passed new regulations before the end of September last year as the Spanish Government's Ábalos Decree, which gave VTCs four years to operate under a temporary license from 2018 to 2022, expired. Read more here

The latest on GEP

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Algorithms, Work and the European Directive; Interview with James Farrar and Sergi Cutillas

Interview with the authors of new report “Workers’ Recommendations on the draft EU Platform Work Directive” in podcast and text form.
From around the web
As gig economy companies flee Europe, Getir is taking over

Morgan Meaker reports for Wired on the rise of Getir, which is now the dominant grocery delivery platform in Europe.
EU: Pass Directive to Protect Workers' Rights

Human Rights Watch calls on the EU to pass the proposed Platform Workers' Directive backed by the European Parliament's Employment Committee. 
Global digital labour platforms offer a mirage of inclusive development in Africa

Kelle Howson, platform economy expert at Research ICT Africa, argues that the platforms' narrative that they create decent work in places where its most needed is not borne out by the facts.

Upcoming events

- A protest will be held in Berlin outside the Labour Court at 9am on Tuesday 17th of January in support of two Flink couriers who were fired for union organising. On Friday 20th of January, an event will be held on union busting at Flink in Kiezraum in Kreuzberg, Berlin at 6pm. Click here for details.

- The European Parliament will debate Uber's lobbying practices in the EU on 18 January. The day after, the European Parliament will debate the mandate agreed by the Employment Committee to negotiate the Platform Work Directive after right-wing MEPs sought to challenge the mandate. You can follow the debates on the Parliament's website.

- The European Trade Union Institute is hosting an event on the 'Future of work: working with and through digital technology' on the 14 February. Click here for full details and to register. 

- The Platform Labor Project and the Global Digital Cultures Initiative are holding a hybrid international conference on 'Global Perspectives on platforms, labour and social re-production', at the University of Amsterdam, 27-28 June. Details here

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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