Saturday, March 2, 2024

THE OTHER SIDE OF FOOD DELIVERY MOBILE APPS

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Within DiDaNet Project (Digital Danube Network), TU Confederations from Austria, Slovenia, Serbia, Moldavia and Ukraine cooperate on subject of digitalisation in connection with the challenges and opportunities arising from the development in the labour market. One of the risks of digitalisation are precarious working conditions which primarily affect platform workers who are basically forced into bogus self-employment and who do not have adequate social protection.
Lead partner within Project is Austrian Trade Union Federation OGB, and partners in Serbia are CATUS/SSSS and TUC „Nezavisnost“, with support from national Ministry of Labour and from Serbian Association of Employers. The following text on delivery workers/riders for Digital platforms was created within Serbian DiDaNet Project Team.
Digital platforms such as Glovo, Wolt, Donesi, and CarGo treat workers as “independent service providers” and not employees, bypassing their rights to union representation, guaranteed to those with standard employment contracts.
Regulations concerning employee and labor rights in the Republic of Serbia, including the Labor Law, use the term “employee” instead of the term “worker,” which implies signing a standard employment contract and guarantee union member rights only to “employees.” Therefore, certain groups of workers, especially those engaged through atypical forms of work such as digital platform delivery services, are deprived of the right to formal union representation, and consequently, to collective negotiation, strike, and union protection.
Over the past decade, there has been an explosion of work in the platform economy worldwide. Work with the mediation of the platform has penetrated all areas of economic activity and changed the understanding of work and employment radically. Like many other countries, Serbia has not remained immune to such a phenomenon. In addition to freelancers working on online digital platforms, the number of workers in Serbia has recently increased as a result of mobile applications for food delivery such as Glovo, Donesi, Wolt, and passenger transport such as CarGo.
Most of these platforms have been active in Serbia since 2018 or 2019, except for the company Donesi (which is now part of the chain Delivery Hero), which was founded in 2006, but it introduced its mobile application only in 2014. Despite them entering the market relatively late, the Covid-19 pandemic has had the wind at their back, which led to an increase in their user base and an increase in the number of people working across the platforms.
The first research by the Center for Public Policy Research on workers through mobile applications indicates that many of the rights from the standard employment relationship are not available to them. Nevertheless, platforms offering services via mobile applications have attracted a significant number of workers interested in replacing permanent employment and social and health insurance with better earnings and more flexible working hours.
In Serbia, these jobs are taken up primarily by middle-aged men with relatively long work experience with secondary or higher education. In contrast, women rarely do these jobs. Students generally work part-time, while others work full-time.
Due to the lack of jobs and poor conditions prevailing in the domestic labor market, platforms for passenger transport and food delivery, in particular, are relatively attractive work opportunities in Serbia. They offer a continuous job offer, allowing workers to earn a good income and a certain degree of financial stability.
According to the Center’s study results, such workers can earn between RSD 60,000 and 200,000 a month (€500–1.700), which is far more than those people can make at a workplace with a similar skill level. This is particularly pronounced among workers without formal qualifications or a university degree, who nevertheless are a minority among providers via mobile applications.
While students usually work part-time, the people for whom this is their primary job, the working day lasts from eight to 12, or even 15 hours. Every month, those who work the most could collect 200 to 300 hours per month, compared to most employees who work about 170 hours. Finally, when everything has been added up, earnings are just an illusion, some say.
This is because these RSD 60,000 (€500) and 200,000 (€1.700) a month come with a high price. First, although they determine all the rules and working conditions, the platforms do not employ workers directly but through intermediaries who usually offer workers precarious employment contracts, i.e., temporary or occasional employment contracts, which typically read for far fewer working hours than they actually achieve. Besides, some workers do not have any employment contracts at all or do not know what they have signed. Their relationship with intermediaries comes down to paying a certain percentage to agencies (usually from 8% to 15%) to get their money on hand and less often on the account. Few workers have also registered as entrepreneurs, but these levies are too high for their earning level, so – through one entrepreneurial activity – one registered entrepreneur and several of their colleagues usually work and get paid in cash. Therefore, this type of work in Serbia is characterized by non-compliance with the principles of decent work, i.e., limited social protection, safety and health at work, stability of the workplace, and social dialogue opportunities.
A number of workers have told us they do not care about it. Some of the workers interviewed by the Center said that they do not need health insurance “because they are healthy” or pension because “the pension will probably not even exist when I grow old.” However, when they get injured (traffic accidents in this business are widespread), many are entirely left without income and treatment opportunities unless they are insured through a family member.
Secondly, it is difficult to say whether this amount of RSD 60,000 (€500) and RSD 200,000 (€1.700) is the gross or net amount. Namely, workers use this money to pay for their meals, the costs of purchasing or repairing vehicles, gasoline and spare parts, parking fees, and as we said, they usually do not have paid sick leave or vacation, so they see them as an expense.
They use their private vehicles as a means of work – cars, motorcycles or bicycles, with no depreciation costs included in their earnings. They pay parking fines themselves, which is sometimes inevitable due to delivery issues. Unfortunately, problems related to occupational health and safety are not recognized; they are only aware of traffic safety issues.
At the global level, a number of countries in the world are trying to respond to the challenges posed by platform work, both online and through mobile applications. Some governments enact sectoral and competition laws, labor regulations, and rules that apply to online platforms specifically. Serbia still has not taken a stance on any of these issues.

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