More than a hundred Grab food delivery riders launched the Iloilo Grab Riders Union (IGRU) in Iloilo City, Philippines, on November 24, then staged a unity ride around the city, located on Panay Island. Some 200 drivers joined in the ride, with more riders taking part from the streets, organizers said. The newly formed union’s demand is for just fares, paid sick leave and other social protections, and union recognition.
“The increasing price of gasoline and of commodities and the decrease in base fare delivery fees makes Grab riders work twice their normal hours to get the same wage they earned before the pandemic,”Archie, one of the Grab drivers who helped organize IGRU, said on the local radio show DZRH News. Archie is also a member of the Partido ng Manggagawa (Labor Party).
Photo Credit: Solidarity Center/Andreanna Garcia
Preceding the launch of IGRU, gig drivers from Grab and other platforms such as Food Panda and Maxim had begun to form unions across the Philippines. On August 15, some 300 delivery riders from General Santos City organized under the union, United Delivery Riders of the Philippines (RIDERS). RIDERS is composed of delivery riders from Food Panda, Maxim and Grab. Unity rides have also been conducted in the cities of General Santos and Cebu. Elsewhere in the country, local chapters of RIDERS also have begun to organize.
Their aim is to formally establish the United Delivery Riders of the Philippines (RIDERS) as the national union for the riders. “During the pandemic, when Grab suspended the GrabCar service, Grab food delivery drivers became the lifeline of the company. Is it wrong to ask them to be fair?” asked John Jay, a multi-app driver and organizer from Metro Manila. He attended the IGRU launch to express support for his fellow Grab drivers.
In addition to the decrease in earnings, delivery drivers in the Philippines have little or no job security or basic benefits as they are part of the gig economy. Under Philippine labor laws, delivery riders are classified as “independent contractors,” which does not provide an employee-employer relationship. As gig economy workers, delivery riders are not entitled to social protections such as health insurance and income security, among other basic protections.
“Our interests will be protected only through the passing of laws,” said Mark, a driver and organizer from Pampanga. Like John Jay, he also traveled to Iloilo to share a message of solidarity for his fellow riders.
Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros proposed the Protektadong Online Workers, Entrepreneurs, Riders at Raketera (POWERR) Act, which would protect workers in the gig economy. A committee currently is working on the bill.
The IGRU launch was supported by the Solidarity Center, the global union IUF, RIDERS, the Center of United and Progressive Workers (SENTRO), Partido ng Manggagawa (Labor Party) and the Brotherhood of Two Wheels (Kagulong).
Around the world, young people with few job options are forced to take whatever work they can find, no matter how low the pay or insecure the work. Many sign on with platform-based jobs to get by. Others leave their country with the hope of finding decent, secure work elsewhere, looking for a chance to fairly compete on a level playing field.
The latest Solidarity Center Podcast takes a look at what’s happening in Serbia, where one in four young people are not employed and not in school, and how unions there are meeting the challenges.
“The number one issue for all countries in the region and all young people is decent employment and the potential to find a job for each person in a way that is transparent and efficient and without corruption,” says Bojana Bijelovic Bosanac, a political scientist and expert adviser in the International Department at Confederation of Autonomous Trade Unions of Serbia (CATUS).
Bosanac tells Solidarity Center Executive Director and podcast host Shawna Bader-Blau about a union-lead survey among young workers in the Balkan region during the pandemic in which many reported being unpaid for their platform work as programmers, customer service reps, telecenter workers and delivery drivers, with nowhere to turn for support. Making the union their home is a key goal for CATUS and unions across Serbia.
“When we talk to young people, we want them to know that they are part of the union. They are the future of the union. We are inviting them always to approach, to come, to participate and to be leaders of the union.”
The Solidarity Podcast Available Wherever You Get Podcasts
This podcast was made possible by the Ford Foundation and the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under Cooperative Agreement No.AID-OAA-L-16-00001 and the opinions expressed herein are those of the participant(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID/USG.
Some 70 Bolt food delivery drivers in Ukraine are waging a digital strike after their wages were reduced by 50 percent, a move that built on the drivers’ discontent with lack of health coverage and cutbacks in bonus payments, a growing global phenomenon. The platform workers are turning off their apps each day at 2 p.m., making it difficult for the company to fulfill evening food orders.
“Transportation costs are the same, risks are the same, and money is half as much. It’s outrageous!” says Artem, a Bolt courier. Like many striking couriers, his backpack features a sticker supporting the strike.
Further cutting into drivers’ wages, he says, is the need to pay for constant bike or scooter repairs.
“For seven days of eight to ten hours of work, a courier covers more than 1,000 kilometers (622 miles) amid city traffic. Every day, you face potholes on the road, there is a constant need of repair, replacing some parts,” he says. “Income no longer covers risks.”
Bolt Founder a Billionaire, Workers Struggle for Pay
Although Bolt is a familiar brand in the United States for its green ride-sharing scooters scattered across urban areas, elsewhere in the world, the company rivals Uber as a delivery service, with 75 million customers in Africa and Europe, especially eastern Europe. In Ukraine, Bolt has 3.5 million customers served by fewer than 100 delivery drivers.
Yet, even as Willig, 27, has become the third richest person in Estonia through Bolt profits, couriers who daily face dangerous conditions receive no income when they are injured and cannot work.
“You constantly hear about couriers getting into an accident, receiving medical treatment, having surgery,” says Artem. “If you suffer yourself, there must be a certain ‘cushion’ for you not to starve at least for the duration of treatment.”
Bolt workers in Ukraine are calling for a return to the previous bonus and payment structure, and pay for waiting at restaurants for orders. They also want health and life insurance and say the company should seek legislative measures to ensure scooters are registered.
Platform Workers Join Together to Demand Rights
Well before the COVID-19 pandemic boosted home delivery services, the demand for couriers and other essential workers was increasing around the world. But because they are classified as “independent contractors,” platform workers are ineligible for the same benefits as workers in the formal economy, and typically are not covered by a country’s labor laws.
Like Bolt workers in Ukraine, couriers from Nigeria to Colombia are joining together to demand their fundamental rights to decent work—living wages, social protections like health care, and measures to improve job safety.
In Tbilisi, Georgia, couriers at Bolt went on strike in March to protest lowered wages and what they say is a manipulated bonus system and unwarranted layoffs. Georgia couriers at Glovo also protested this past spring over lack of medical coverage for work-related injuries and changes to the app-based algorithm making it more difficult to get orders..
Like gig economy workers around the world, delivery drivers in Ukraine “have zero labor rights,” says worker rights attorney George Sandul. And, during the COVID-19 pandemic, “the drivers were on the front line of this struggle without any personal protective equipment, without any guarantees. And in case they will catch COVID, nobody will pay any compensation for them.”
Sandul spoke with Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau, host of The Solidarity Center Podcast, where he shared how unions in Ukraine are engaged in creative campaigns to reach these vulnerable workers. At the same, it is necessary to educate the public, he says.
“The first step to solve this problem is to raise awareness about this problem because, in fact, the ordinary customer perceives that the gig economy is something that simplifies his or her life.”
The future of work must not be one where employers do not take responsibility for their workers, Sandul says.
“To change the power balance, unions are the crucial for democracy development in Ukraine because without controlling the big corporations of the state, we will get dictatorship of the big companies.”
Tune in to today’s show and join us for a new episode each Wednesday for a new episode each on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Stitcher or wherever you subscribe to your podcasts.
The Solidarity Center Podcast, “Billions of Us, One Just Future,” highlights conversations with workers (and other smart people) worldwide shaping the workplace for the better.
Be sure to catch last week’s episode in which Bader-Blau talks with migrant rights advocates attorney Preeda, who discusses how union are helping migrant workers gain rights in Thailand.
SOLIDARITY CENTER PODCAST SCHEDULE
April 7: Francia Blanco, a domestic worker and trans rights activist reaching marginalized workers through her all-trans domestic workers union
April 14: Adriana Paz, an advocate with the International Domestic Workers Federation who understands firsthand the power of unions in ensuring domestic workers have safe, decent jobs
April 21: International Trade Union Confederation President Ayuba Wabba, who explores the Nigerian labor movement’s response to the COVID crisis on workers and discusses the global labor movement’s plans to build back better for workers around the world
This podcast was made possible by the generous support of the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under Cooperative Agreement No.AID-OAA-L-16-00001 and the opinions expressed herein are those of the participant(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID/USG.
“Jeff Vogt, at the Washington, D.C.-based Solidarity Center worker rights group, said there was a clear trend toward recognizing improved rights and employment status for those working for gig economy companies dealing with food delivery and taxi hire. “These companies have gone to great lengths to insulate themselves from responsibility and have put an extraordinary burden on workers to claim their basic rights at work. Governments must step in now and enact legislation that protects the rights of all workers providing labor to a digital platform company,'”
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