Photograph: Nadir Noori
Edit: Elvira Krithari
Translation: Gigi Papoulias
“It took two years of mobilization and 15 deaths due to accidents to see some of our demands reflected in the law. Now, the battle for their implementation begins,” Vassilis Kefalas says. He is a member of the Committee for the Rights of Delivery Workers, and describes the situation which he and his colleagues endure, about two and a half months after our initial conversation about Mohammed’s adventure in Peristeri, published in Solomon MAG on March 19, 2019.
In that case, Mohammed, a food delivery worker, had been physically assaulted by his employer and had taken legal action against him. According to our information, the employer, owner of a grill restaurant in Peristeri, then filed a lawsuit against Mohamed and the Assembly of Motorbike Drivers, for defamation.
Since then, a strike, in which thousands of delivery workers participated, took place on April 11, 2019. The strike forced several media outlets to examine, albeit temporarily, the difficult working conditions which exist for delivery workers and couriers, in a sector which is dominated by intensity, accidents (often fatal), unpaid overtime and low wages.
From law to implementation
“We have succeeded in passing positive regulations, which, however, will remain on paper, if we do not insist, as workers, in implementing them in practice,” Kefalas added. He states that a large number of employers in Thessaloniki have not yet implemented what has been outlined by the legislative intervention of the Ministry of Labor, which took place in May this year. “What’s certain is that employers have made a fuss and know that we can now force them to comply,” he said.
Specifically, based on two articles that were included in Law 4611/2019 and refer to the delivery workers:
– Employers, among other things, are now required to provide employees with personal protective equipment (PPE), which, according to Kefalas, now includes helmets (!), which was not the case in the past (however, the ministerial decision that will stipulate the specifications of the PPE is pending). Also, it is clearly stated that the maintenance of the vehicle is the responsibility of the employer, if the vehicle is his property.
– if the vehicle belongs to the employee, as is the case in most food establishments, the employee should be given monetary compensation for use and maintenance of the vehicle at least equal to 15% of the minimum wage, an amount that will reach €98 per month for any employee working eight hours per day, five days per week. As Kefalas notes, in the midst of the information campaign carried out by the Committee for the Rights of Delivery Workers in Thessaloniki, the compensation corresponds to €0.59 for each hour of work and “is money due in addition to the salary and regardless of the PPE provided.”
– the employer is also required to declare the vehicle’s registration number, in the information system “ERGANI” −something that will contribute to creating an accurate picture of the number of vehicles in each sector but also to facilitate inspections by the Labor Inspectorate.
However, there was no shortage of retaliation against delivery workers who said they would take part in the April strike. According to the Assembly of Motorbike Drivers, which had headed the organization of the strike in Attiki, (as well as other associations and grass-root movements), two Goody’s fast food establishments, (one in Agia Paraskevi and one on Alexandra Avenue), each fired a delivery worker.
According to a representative of the fast food chain (which is owned by the Vivartia Group), the dismissals are unrelated to the worker’s participation in the strike, but are due to the “inadequate performance of their duties.” In fact, the company cites as an argument that “it was their decision” that their delivery service was not available to customers on April 11.
However, the Assembly of Motorbike Drivers attributes this decision to the pressure of delivery workers to improve working conditions, an issue which they had brought up much earlier than their intention to go on strike. In fact, the worker who was fired from Goody’s in Agia Paraskevi had asserted in writing, his request to use a company motorbike for deliveries and not his own.
With the support of the Assembly, the fired workers appealed to the Ministry of Labor, where a meeting was held on June 11, 2019, in front of the general secretary, Andreas Nefeloudis. The employer stated that they were not obliged to offer a specific reason for the dismissals, since they were made before the new regulation for the “valid reason for dismissal” was voted on and passed. However, according to what Nefeloudis told Solomon MAG, the employer has agreed to reconsider their position within the next few days, leaving the possibility of re-hiring the two employees open.
According to the Assembly of Motorbike Drivers, a delivery worker who participated in a similar strike in 2017 had suffered the repercussions by a Goody’s in Vrilissia. The case then ended when the employer didn’t pursue the case and an out-of-court settlement was made.
As the president of the Union of Food and Tourism Workers, Giorgos Hotzoglou, also told us, the Association of Brand Name Restaurants and Fast Food Chains is doing everything possible (such as resorting to the second degree of arbitration disputes), to not apply the recent Arbitration Decision on the (improved) terms of compensation and employment of the approximately 30,000 employees in these chains, including delivery workers.
Franchise and contractors, vehicles of arbitration
Many of the major fast food chains offer franchise opportunities. Usually, parent companies are unaware of the “sins” and controversial practices of the franchises.
The April strike also raised awareness of similar problems in another sector: the courier companies. “With the private companies in this sector (mainly ACS and SPEEDEX), most do not comply with the basic rules that exist in parent companies, such as the provision of a company vehicle,” notes Giorgos Papadimitriou, vice president of one of the industry unions, (S.Ε.Τ.Τ.Ε.Α.). The union’s main demand is the establishment of the liability clause of the parent companies against their subsidiary, in accordance with what has already been legislated for the contracting companies (Article 9, Law 4554/2018).
These companies, according to the unionist, are another means of violating the labor rights of couriers as well, with a typical example being the state-run ELTA and their subsidiary, ELTA Courier (ELTA SA), which assigns a large part of their work to third parties.
Thanks to a recent mobilization of S.E.T.T.E.A., four delivery workers will be re-hired. They were fired in March 2019, as their contracts with the contracting company Skycom were not renewed, because, as Papadimitriou points out, the workers demanded the three years they are entitled to after the increase of the minimum wage. In other words, it took the intervention of a union, and for the case to go to the Ministry of Labor, in order for the law to be upheld −regarding a salary increase in a state-run company.
According to Papadimitriou, about 2,000 contract workers are employed at ELTA and over 500 (and only 170 are permanent employees) work at ELTA Courier, some with one-month contracts.
While it seems that there are miles to go before delivery workers gain respect for their labor rights, the stories of their industry in Greece are no longer known only for work accidents and illegality, but also for the employees’ persistence on improving their daily lives.