GIG ECONOMY

Spanish Supreme Court rules food-delivery riders are employees, not self-employed

The decision could have far-reaching consequences for businesses in the so-called gig economy such as Glovo and Deliveroo

Glovo food delivery riders in Madrid.
Glovo food delivery riders in Madrid.Víctor Sainz

The Spanish Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that food-delivery riders are employees, not self-employed workers. The decision was made in a case brought to court by a former worker for Glovo, the most popular food delivery service in Spain along with Deliveroo. “The relationship that exists between a rider and the Glovo business is of a professional nature,” the Supreme Court said in a statement.

This is the first time that the Supreme Court has issued a ruling on the working relationship between food-delivery riders and digital platforms such as these.

Glovo is one of the many companies to take advantage of what is known in the United States and the United Kingdom as the “gig economy,” a term that refers to workers who are self-employed and work temporary, flexible jobs such as, in this case, delivering food from a range of establishments to customers, or drive for transportation firms such as Uber, or deliver parcels for e-commerce giants such as Amazon.

The court ruled Glovo is “a business that fixes the conditions for the provision of its services, and owns the assets essential to carrying out its services”

Although the text of the Supreme Court sentence is still not known, the decision could have far-reaching consequences for the entire gig economy. The court found that Glovo was “not a mere intermediary” between restaurants and delivery riders, but instead “a business that fixes the conditions for the provision of its services, and owns the assets essential to carrying out its services,” the court said. These “assets” include the cellphone application, which riders must have if they are to find work.

The decision marks an important step forward in a long legal battle in which several lower courts have ruled in favor of food delivery riders, only to be overturned by higher regional courts. This specific case reached the Supreme Court after Isaac Cuende, a former Glovo worker, appealed a ruling by Madrid’s High Court, which found that food-delivery riders were self-employed workers. In a bid to unify the court’s response on this issue, the head of Madrid’s High Court decided to send the next related case to all 17 magistrates in the Labor Division. In this instance, the judges found that food-delivery riders were employees.

The ruling comes at an important time for two reasons: on one hand it coincides with the ongoing controversy over the contradictory sentences on riders’ working status, and on the other, amid government plans to further regulate the sector.

In recent years, some workers hired to deliver goods via apps such as Glovo have been demanding recognition as salaried staff and petitioning for the corresponding rights, such as sick leave and paid holidays.

Glovo said in a statement it respected the court’s ruling, but expected the government and the European Union to set up a regulatory framework. “Glovo firmly believes this regulation must be promoted based on dialogue between all actors involved,” the statement said.

With information from Reuters.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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