Riders in Europe, between Protections and Rights in the Gig Economy

Politics - January 12, 2024

The Working Conditions of “New Couriers” Raises Important Questions Regarding the Protections and Rights They Should Enjoy.

In recent years, the European working landscape has been marked by a growing presence of gig economy workers, among which the so-called “riders” stand out. These couriers who deliver food, packages and more have become a common presence on the streets of European cities. The gig economy, or economy of small independent businesses, has grown significantly in Europe, driven by the expansion of digital platforms that connect independent workers with those who need their services. Among these platforms, home delivery platforms, such as Deliveroo, Uber Eats and Glovo, have played a central role and their riders, in particular, have found themselves at the centre of this phenomenon. Many of them are young, looking for work flexibility and quick earning opportunities. However, this flexibility is often at the expense of employment stability and social protections, raising questions about their working conditions.

One of the main issues concerns the nature of the contracts stipulated between riders and delivery platforms. Many of them are classified as self-employed, which means they do not enjoy the same protections as employees. This classification has generated legal disputes in several European countries, with unions and activists calling for greater protection for riders. In some cases, courts have ruled that riders should be considered employees, thus obtaining rights such as minimum wage, paid holidays and social security contributions. However, this has led some platforms to change their business models, introducing contracts that offer greater flexibility but maintaining the distinction between self-employed workers and employees.

Another critical aspect concerns insurance as riders, often engaged in jobs with high physical intensity and at risk of road accidents, despite needing adequate coverage, suffer from a certain lack of clarity regarding their employment status, thus complicating the insurance issue, and some not benefiting from adequate protection in the event of a work-related injury or illness. Another fundamental aspect concerns the possibility for riders to organize themselves and defend their rights through union participation. The fragmented and often isolated nature of rider work, in fact, makes it difficult to form strong and representative unions, although there have been significant efforts by some trade unions to mobilize and support riders in the fight for fairer working conditions.

Union participation has often been hindered by company policies that prevent union formation or collective bargaining. The fight to recognize riders’ right to organize and negotiate has become a major challenge in the quest for greater equity in the gig economy. The debate on the condition of riders in Europe is destined to remain at the centre of discussions on the future of work. While the flexibility offered by the gig economy is something many workers appreciate, it is essential to balance it with adequate protections and fundamental rights. Digital platforms, governments and trade unions must work together to find solutions that ensure a sustainable coexistence between flexibility and job security.

The redefinition of employment contracts, the extension of social protections and access to an adequate insurance system are crucial steps to improve the condition of riders. Furthermore, it is crucial to promote union participation and ensure that gig economy workers have an effective voice in decisions that affect their working conditions. The current situation of riders in Europe is characterized by a complex intersection of flexibility and job insecurity, and addressing this challenge requires a collective commitment from platforms, governments and workers themselves to ensure a sustainable and fair future in the European gig economy. It will be necessary to address the problem as soon as possible to better integrate the work of the new generations into the continental economic context.

Italy is certainly an interested bystander, considering that to date it applies two different contractual models, both in agreement with the trade unions, but with different rules and wages.

Alessandro Fiorentino