Spain’s Elections Pit Gig Workers Against the Far Right

The election sees Sumar and center-left PSOE facing off against the Popular Party, the traditional party of the right wing in Spain, and Vox, a new far-right party whose fiery anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric—including a promise to expel all undocumented migrants—has seen its support soar in recent years. That’s a threat that many riders will fear, since in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain’s two largest cities, riders themselves believe that more than half of all food deliveries are done by couriers without the legal right to work, although there are no official estimates.

Vox has promised to scrap the Riders Law if it comes to power.

Repartidores Unidos’ spokesperson Gaviria recently appeared in a documentary-style interview with Vox leader Santiago Abascal. Gaviria says Repartidores Unidos is politically independent but that he himself is supporting Vox in this election. García, the UGT member, has spoken alongside Díaz at Sumar events.

Pre-election opinion polls are very tight, but they slightly favor a PP-Vox right-wing coalition government. If that happens, and they scrap the Riders Law, it wouldn’t wipe out the riders’ rights at a stroke.

The 2020 Supreme Court judgment would still have legal effect. The Labor Inspectorate is technically independent from the government, meaning it can pursue any cases that fall within its legal purview. However, the government does have influence over which cases are deemed to be important. “The new government could decide not to prioritize the platform economy,” Todolí says. “That is definitely a possibility.”

If that happens, Glovo’s and Uber Eats’ positions would unquestionably be strengthened. A change in government “can obviously work in Glovo’s favor,” says Giles Thorne, head of European internet research at investment advisory firm Jeffries. “Glovo will be very excited about the end of Yolanda Díaz.”

The result of the July 23 election could have ramifications for platform work beyond Spain. The EU is finalizing its Platform Work Directive, an ambitious law that tries to regulate all work on digital labor platforms, not just riders, across all 27 EU member states. The directive is at the final stages of its long march through the EU institutions, where the issue of employment status has been fiercely fought over. It just so happens that Spain currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council, the body which represents member states in the EU. Spain, therefore, is in charge of negotiating the council’s position on the Platform Work Directive with the European Parliament.

Negotiations officially began on July 11 and are expected to be very difficult. If the Spanish government changes later in the month, the presidency will move from being one of the most supportive of employment rights for platform workers to one of the most hostile.

Whatever is decided in Brussels will reverberate globally, as the European Union will become the first major economic bloc in the world economy to have comprehensive platform work regulation. Spain’s fractious politics may well prove decisive in shaping the future of platform work far beyond its borders.

The EU’s machinations over the finer points of employment law can feel a long distance away from the daily realities for riders trying to survive a heat wave. But what’s derived from employment status is a set of rights that are very practical in the context of scorching temperatures: Will you get paid if you take more breaks from the sun? Will you get paid time off if you get sick from heat exposure? Is the company you work for legally responsible for your health at work?

The Spanish government introduced a new law in May for outdoor workers in extreme weather, which includes a prohibition on working if there is an official weather warning alert. While the law applies to Spain’s riders, it does not apply to those at Uber Eats and Glovo who operate as independent contractors.

“We have an occupational risk assessment because we are employees,” García says of those at his Glovo Market grocery warehouse. “But 80 percent of Glovo riders are not, and the algorithm doesn’t care if you are suffering with the heat.”