Genoa - Foodora’s announcement that it is leaving Italy is not a setback to the growth of delivery riders, the modern, poorly paid and very little protected pony-express employees who deliver things like meals by bike.
The food delivery sector, which has the German company Foodora and the English company Deliveroo as its main representatives, is “in continuous and rapid expansion”, as the National Social Security Institute certified in its last annual report, published in July.
The INPS analyses Foodora and Deliveroo’s labour contracts, “two companies very similar in business model and whose riders have similar characteristics,” and describes their growth. “Each of the companies has signed contracts over the last year with about 1,500-2,000 workers, about 600 of whom are active every month.”
The turnover is very high, only 20% have been doing the job for more than a year, and salaries are miserable, €12 gross per hour, the staff, almost entirely male, is 50% students, 30% workers supplementing their income, and 20% unemployed. Foodora and Deliveroo are two exponents of the “gig economy” where “gig”, an American word that derives from jazz musicians’ slang, means “odd job”.
According to a recent study by the Debenedetti Foundation in Italy, m ore than 750,000 people work in the gig economy. “One of the fastest growing sectors is deliveries. Not just food, but deliveries of all kinds. Para-postal services that are spreading out somewhat all over Italy,” says Antonio Aloisi, a researcher at the University Institute of European Studies in Fiesole and professor of labour contract law at Bocconi.
Many see a victory for Luigi di Maio - or a serious mistake on his part - in the announced exit of Foodora from the national market. Since taking office, the minister has pointed the finger at the exploitation of riders, making it one of the main themes of his political agenda. In June, a first draft of the Dignity Decree contained a specific part on riders, who were meant to become employees.
That part, then removed, was in response to the ruling of the labour judge of Turin who a month earlier had rejected an appeal from six Foodora couriers. The couriers asked for the status of employees and the associated rights. The ruling made it clear that riders are not employees, because, in a nutshell, they do not punch a time card. This has led to a debate.
“Given that, like any court decision, that ruling concerns the individual case and responds to the plaintiffs’ requests, I believe it is based on a somewhat outdated idea of what self-employment and employee work is”, was Aloisi’s opinion.
Gig economy workers are co.co.co. [i.e. It. contratto di collaborazione coordinata e continuativa, a form of employment between freelance work and employment in Italy] or occasional self-employed workers or holders of VAT numbers, but they are subject to strict controls, even if these are not very visible. The instrument of control is the “rating”, the score that customers assign to each driver based on his punctuality and their satisfaction, which then affects the assignment of work shifts: those who have higher ratings get the best shifts.
“In the gig economy,” says Aloisi, “the boundary between autonomous and subordinate work is very subtle. Having said that, I think it is an exaggeration to hold the Minister of Labour responsible for Foodora’s departure from Italy. Foodora, like Deliveroo, is a very young and, at the moment, a loss-making company. Italy is a difficult market, where competition is high and market share is relatively small. Foodora’s decision to put its Italian branch up for sale is clearly a commercial one. Politics has nothing to do with it.”