“The model of platform work is based on denying our worker status”

Belén D. is the General Secretary of SiTraRepA, grassroot Union of App Delivery Workers of Argentina. She's a 31-year-old female application delivery worker for the company Rappi. She also coordinates with precarious workers in other areas.

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By Belén D.

In the first place, I want to greet this extraordinary Congress, full of workers from all around the world. I want to start by painting out that Gig companies are seeking to install a model of global labor exploitation based on eliminating labor rights gained over the past 200 years. To sustain this model that denies labor rights, they attempt to impose an anti-union model. 

This is a new branch of the economy that generates huge profits based on rolling back labor relations to conditions of slavery. These companies talk about technological innovation and the future, but what they are really doing is taking us back to working conditions from 200 years ago, violating all labor laws. They do this through the figure of the “false self-employed”, the “being you own boss”, the “collaborating partner”, denying our status as employees in a dependent relationship. This leaves us in a condition of ultra-precariousness where companies deny us our most basic labor rights, enshrined in the historical struggle of the working class.

First, we have no protection or insurance against accidents. Workers have to provide their own safety equipment and all work tools. In Argentina, we had a case where a delivery person had an accident and the application asked him about the condition of the pizza. He was left standing for three months without any health coverage. He had to pay for his own recovery. He was not paid for those days, that is, without sick or accident leave, we are left helpless, without income, and when he returned to work, he was in the worst ranking.

We also do not have paid vacations. Most SiTraRepA members have not taken a week off for years. At most, the best prospect is to take a weekend off. There is no maternity or sick leave. It is a regime of labor slavery.

Companies also do not take care of the employer’s contributions for the retirement of delivery workers.

There is also no protection against dismissal, because the “blocks” that the applications give us are covert dismissals. If a rider has problems with a delivery and is blocked, he or she is left without a job and without the right to severance pay or unemployment insurance. For the companies, we are absolutely disposable, when they no longer want us to work, they block us and that’s it. This is an illegal practice.

Regarding our income, we do not have a monthly basic salary that allows us to know how much we will earn, how to organize the payment of rent, our taxes, and maintain our own work tools. We also do not have anywhere to clean ourselves, go to the bathroom, or rest, these companies also save on these things, and condemn us to inhumane work.

Platform companies take up piece wage as a form of exploitation, a typical form from the early 19th century, when instead of paying for a workday, they paid for each piece produced. Today, with work done per delivery or per trip, the same logic applies: the quality of our work ends up being supervised by ourselves, the duration is the maximum our body can withstand. Under this mechanism of payment per task completed, workers themselves increase their exploitation to the maximum without direct supervision.

This is key to understanding how the algorithm that companies design controls our work, where the supposed “incentives” or “promotions” are actually mechanisms to extend our workday beyond the legal workday: most of us carry out workdays of 10 or 12 hours to make a living. In Argentina we receive a payment of 0.50 dollars per delivery. And the company does not receive us to discuss the raises we would need.

We have a SiTraRepA colleague who works six days a week. One day he pedals for 16 hours, and the other five days he pedals for 10 hours. 66 hours per week. In general, we cover 500 to 600 kilometers per week.

Companies direct our work through algorithms. They control and evaluate our work under threat of sanctions or account suspension, including the orders we have to fulfill, the routes we have to take, the distances we have to travel, and our geographical location. We can also mention the inhumane criteria of delivery companies through platforms that, in many cases, make us ride 8 to 10 kilometers on a bicycle to deliver an order without respecting the designated zone. This illustrates the tyranny of the algorithm directed by entrepreneurs to hyper-exploit us and use the excuse of the “technological and digital revolution.” The application is the foreman of the new century because it is the way these entrepreneurs found to direct our work, extend working hours, and control us without facing us: they hide behind the algorithm, which is why we say they are ghost companies. In response to our complaints, we only have a chat or a bot.

Therefore, the platform work model is based on denying our worker status and all the rights that come with it, which include years of labor struggle and union organization, and are enshrined in the Labor Contract Law in Argentina. This model can be implemented because companies bypass labor laws worldwide and lobby governments to let them do business at the expense of our rights. A clear example of this reality is the Uber Files.

Additionally, it is an anti-union business model that spends millions of dollars to dismantle and attack union organization from the ground up with extortionate and manipulative campaigns, where they pursue those who organize and, in other cases, threaten to leave the country if any regulation is enforced. Platform companies do not want to deal with a collective of workers who stand up for their rights and demand labor recognition. They prefer us to be atomized as individuals without organization. They do not want to sit down with workers to discuss income, working conditions, or give us the voice we deserve to understand the algorithm’s conditions and to set limits on arbitrary and unilateral blocks and other sanctions.

In our country, there was an attempt to advance a registry of delivery workers in the Province of Buenos Aires, where there are around 25,000 riders. In response, which was just a registry, companies organized a mobilization with paid and pro-company riders, as well as various actors disguised as riders to prevent approval. They also conducted an extortionate campaign, telling us that if there is regulation, they will leave the country. They threaten to leave us on the street in any fight.

How do we respond? To the hyper-precarious and exploitative plan of these companies, we respond with this wonderful International Congress. We respond with each of the grassroots organizations and unions that we put in place worldwide. While these companies rely on an individualistic discourse, we pick up the experience and tradition of collective struggle, labor struggle, of those who conquered the 8-hour workday, the right to health coverage and workplace accidents, paid vacations, and retirement. That tradition we take up today implies a fight to the finish against these companies that deny us all our rights. Our grassroots unions are these entrepreneurs’ nightmare because we, the workers, are the ones in charge. And just as in AMAZON, Starbucks, and other places, our Colombian colleagues and others managed to conquer their union representation, we must redouble our efforts and internationalize this struggle. Because it is evident that the algorithm as the foreman of the 21st century and the absolute elimination of rights are something that all platform workers worldwide experience. Therefore, it will be crucial to move forward and establish an international movement of platform workers that demands labor recognition, recognition of our unions, and the conquest of all our rights. International unity is crucial to confront these multinationals.

 

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