October 22, 2020

Platforms of ‘riders’: a model of cheating entrepreneurship | Opinion


During the last few years, in Spain we have witnessed the explosive growth of a new type of company coordinated by a revolutionary invention: digital platforms. It is a way of organizing work that allows reducing all costs by outsourcing its services to make the company more flexible and boost the entrepreneurial possibilities of its associates.

Much of the work in this sector is carried out by external collaborators, freelancers who are called upon to participate according to the vagaries of the market each day, while they are supposed to carry out their own businesses. The most emblematic case in our country is that of the giant delivery companies: Deliveroo, Glovo and Uber Eats. But there are also platforms for care, errands, cleaning, housing rental, waiters, tour guides, and a long etcetera that increasingly try to exploit the different spaces of life. That is, you do not need to have capital, or a great idea, or studies in any engineering. The platforms have allowed that to undertake it is enough to register as a freelancer and take advantage of ordinary capacities and resources to make the most of the time.

They are activities marked by precariousness, total lack of social protection and the lack of minimum rights. And yet they have been part of the essentials during the Covid-19 pandemic. Services based on the worst working conditions, but which have helped them during the health crisis to continue doing business.

At what point did entrepreneurship become a work model that should be extended to support the growth of the country? Because it is one thing to be president of Glovo and quite another to be a distributor of that company. One has his own multinational with a millionaire salary and the other has had to work during the coronavirus pandemic without even having access to a bathroom. But they are both entrepreneurs, supposedly.

A story has been built since the crisis of 2008 that discredits the policies of modern states and asserts that the world is mired in various crises (economic, political, labor, cultural, environmental, health, etc.). Then, it would be individuals, through entrepreneurship, the ones called to reverse the situation. In other words, that each one becomes his own boss and makes the qualities of his own human “capital” profitable to put them at the “service” of others, through the market.

They have wanted to open the doors of society to be regulated under market mechanisms, since they are the ones that would promote the appearance of positive attitudes that will bring collective benefit. A clear example of how all this was reflected is the introduction of the flat rate for the self-employed, a measure designed to stimulate individual initiative so that practically anyone could start their own business.

The flat rate opened the back door for them to institutionalize employment under false autonomy. We have brought more than 20 lawsuits across the country that question their labor model for creating a complex system to exploit workers.

The business network

This was how the ground was prepared for digital platforms to break in and begin to put into practice the principles of the new economic model: flexible and autonomous work, more horizontal companies, remuneration by objectives, etc. A whole business network was built, scientifically calculated by human resources departments, which would boost the economy thanks to technological advances.

The entrepreneurial revolution, however, was not what we thought. In the case of delivery platforms, little by little we have seen increasingly reprehensible tactics to grab market shares and, incidentally, circumvent the law. They range from making people compete for hours to work, to using illegal immigrant labor in order to lower prices and pay less and less. A fact that violates countless rights and puts the new economies at the level of slavery.

And right now, when we begin to wake up and see that it is necessary to regulate them, they want to move their headquarters outside the country. All this once they have been protected, they have been allowed to invent new precarious mechanisms, and have them declared an essential service during the pandemic (which translated into good business).

This was just announced by Deliveroo and Uber Eats. Glovo does not do it because it is headquartered in Barcelona and was born there, but it must not lack the desire. Let us remember that, between all of them, they owe more than 10 million euros to Social Security for fraud. But only the offices will be taken because they will continue to offer their services. Thus, they are even battling through political lobbies to adapt the outdated labor regulation to their revolutionary model. Which is very rigid (they say) because it establishes non-negotiable overtime and rest days. And this is not in line with the new times of flexible work, which is what workers want.

We must stop to reflect on what type of companies and society we are promoting. This business model is growing more and more to “modernize” (let’s speak clearly, to make precarious) traditional sectors that are now occupied by supposed entrepreneurs (workers), who are exposed to their partners (employers) leave when you want to enforce the law. And, as is clear, it is a model that we have financed together.

Gonzalo Pino is secretary of union policy at UGT

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