Imagine your livelihood is completely attached to your unwavering ability to say “yes” to whatever is asked of you. Be it biking through the rain at night to deliver a box of empanadas or driving a stranger hours away, you have little choice of whether or not to agree to do it; the alternative is a swift punishment from your employer in the form of less opportunities for work in the future. This is the life of many in Buenos Aires.
The workers of various app services such as Rappi, Uber and Glovo Buenos Aires met with the Secretary of Labor on Tuesday to begin the formation of the first digital app union in America.
The employees initially met in July to discuss the possibility of creating the Program Workers Association to try to combat exploitative working conditions. The alleged abuses include a lack of insurance, lack of retirement plans, lack of seniority privileges, low wages and various other injustices specific to the companies.
The guild of workers said last week that the companies advertise their positions with the phrase “be your own boss,” but the employees insist that they have little to no say in decisions about their work.
When a delivery person declines a service, their rating drops and their employers drop them lower on the list of workers who can deliver in the area, thus giving them less opportunities to work in the future.
When they begin their employment, the employees are asked to sign a terms and conditions document to ensure their compliance with the company rules. Frequently, the executives change this document monthly and the workers must to sign it again in order to maintain their employment.
The group then confirmed that those wishing to work for one of these companies must buy their own uniforms and insulated delivery boxes from their own employers, as well as provide their own form of transportation while delivering for the company.
The loophole that many of these businesses use is that the people who deliver for them can, in a sense, be described as “independent contractors” in the gig economy, so they don’t have to be given as many benefits by the companies.
The cofounder of Rappi, Sebastian Mejia defended his business in an interview with La Nación by stating that his employees can make on average 2.5 times more than the minimum wage. However, what Mejia did not mention was how much his workers would have to work in order to make this cut.
In September, journalist Emiliano Gullo went undercover as a Rappi employee for ten days and summarized the experience as being evidence of the worst side of capitalism: exploitation with a kind face. During his time delivering food, Gullo earned a total of $2,300 pesos.