Spanish Congress passed the New Riders Act: What now?
The Spanish Congress has today passed the so-called “Riders Act“.
This Act basically imposes two things: the presumption of a labour relation between riders and delivery platforms; and the obligation of all companies (whether they are platforms or not) to share with workers’ councils the algorithms that “affect decision-making that may affect working conditions, access to and maintenance of employment, including profiling” (I analyzed the content of the law in another post).
Congress has also approved the processing of the Act as a Draft Law (I will later explain what this means).
In this post I will analyze three things: 1) what was approved today in Congress; 2) the terms of the debate and the context it provides for the implementation of the Law; 3) what we can expect to happen after the Law comes into force in August.
- What exactly was passed in Congress today?
By 195 votes to 151, the Spanish Congress today validated Royal Decree Law 9/2021, commonly known as the “Riders Law”. PSOE, Podemos, ERC, PNV and Bildu voted in favour. PP, Vox and Ciudadanos voted against.
Congress has also approved RDL 9/2021 to be processed as a Draft Law by an overwhelming majority: 321 votes in favour and 26 votes against. What does this mean? It means, in short, that the different parties in Congress will be able to introduce amendments to the text approved today.
Does this mean that the Riders Act will not enter into force? Not at all. The Riders Act will enter into force on 12 August as planned. The processing as a Draft Law is a parallel and separate initiative to the Royal Decree validated today. In other words, if Congress were to complete the processing of this Bill and approve it with a different text, this new text would repeal and replace the current Riders Act. However, as long as Congress does not pass an alternative bill, the Riders Act will remain in full force and effect.
It is important to note that the pace at which a Draft Law such as the one approved today by Congress is processed is set by the Government. It is very common for Draft Laws to be systematically dragged out. This is a way of “killing” the bill by the fact that, if by the end of the legislature the procedures for its vote have not been completed, the bill lapses (it does not jump to the next legislature).
It is highly unlikely that the Government will allow Congress to pass a Law that repeals another law passed by the government itself (as is the case with the Rider Act). Therefore, the process to amend the Act will most likely be initiated, but the Government will not allow it to be completed and the Riders Act will be implemented as it exists today.
Another relevant point is that the hard-right party VOX has announced today that it will appeal the Riders Act before the Constitutional Court (CC) for not complying with the requirements for approving a Royal Decree, i.e. that it be of extraordinary and urgent necessity. It should be remembered that a few weeks ago the CC overturned two Royal Decrees precisely because they did not comply with this requirement (the most notorious Royal Decree annulled was the one that appointed the then Vice-President Pablo Iglesias as a member of the Commission that regulates the National Intelligence Centre -CNI-).
It is possible that, if such an appeal is lodged, the CC will annul the Riders Act. In this case, the law would disappear and the legal problem would be to manage its effects while it was in force. It is foreseeable that the process between VOX presenting its appeal and the CC ruling will take at least a year.
2. What has the debate in Congress been like?
The first part of the debate was surprisingly acrimonious. The Minister of Employment, Mrs. Yolanda Díaz, reacted angrily to the criticisms of the VOX MP.
It is relevant to point this out because the arguments used by Minister Díaz to defend the Act have demonstrated her motivation and her way of understanding the world. In fact, some of her assertions from the tribune sounded more like those of a trade union representative than those of a Minister of Labour. Basically, she defended that whoever attacks her Riders Act is in favour of (maximum) labour exploitation and that the algorithms of companies are instruments to exploit workers. She made references to the slavery of riders, to Spartacus and to the unfair competition generated by algorithms.
Criticism of the Riders Act (from VOX, PP and Ciudadanos) focused on three ideas.
First, this Act should not have been passed as a Royal Decree. It is too important to rob Congress of its right to debate it. Moreover, the fact that it comes into force three months after its approval shows that it is not urgent. The representative of Ciudadanos recalled that this is the 91st Royal Decree passed by Pedro Sánchez since he became Prime Minister; ha haas approved 2.5 Royal Decrees a month during his tenure. Furthermore, the Riders Act has been approved without an economic impact report.
Secondly, the Riders Act has been passed without taking into account those directly affected. The government’s agreement with the trade unions and employers’ associations was made behind the backs of delivery companies and riders. The PP has claimed to have received all the companies and representatives of the riders that the government refused to receive. Curiously, the session was held while more than a hundred riders were demonstrating against the law in front of Congress. Both Podemos and ERC have discredited the struggle of these demonstrators saying that they were paid by the companies.
And third, riders and, in general, digital platforms need a regulation that goes far beyond what has been approved. The PP has proposed a regulation of digital platforms, while VOX has spoken of a Special Rider Statute that adapts to their characteristics. In practice, the Law will mean a wall for the exercise of the Riders’ right to work.
3. What now?
If anything has been missing in the debate in Congress today, it is a deeper discussion on the obligation to share algorithms that applies to all companies and not only to digital platforms. The employment situation of riders has obscured this debate when, objectively, it is as or even more relevant than the former.
Minister Díaz, however, did stress the importance of this obligation during her initial presentation. She insisted that it applies to all companies. And she used striking expressions such as that algorithms should be at the service of workers and should not have a monopoly on ethics. She even assimilated algorithms to bosses who shout at their employees and denounced their prejudices and stereotypes.
In any case, this obligation will be in force and all companies will have to comply with it from 12 August. It is foreseeable that companies will require a confidentiality undertaking from employee representatives with whom the algorithms are shared; whether this is complied with will be another matter.
However, as far as riders are concerned, one thing is clear: digital platforms, with some exceptions, will not hire them directly. The Act is seriously flawed because it will not achieve its main purpose. The platforms are already considering alternatives such as, for example, subcontracting courier companies, temporary employment agencies (ETTs) or rider cooperatives. Strikingly, the minister has reacted to this argument by directly attacking the newspaper article that analyses it (killing the messenger is still a rulers’ reaction more than 2,000 years later). The catalan independence party ERC, for its part, has called for the government to reform the Workers’ Statute to make it more difficult to subcontract to ETTs (it also called for regulation of all platforms and not just Delivery ones).
In short, the Riders Act has been validated by Congress but, far from solving the problems surrounding the hiring of riders and the use of algorithms by companies, it looks set to fuel conflict and political debate in the future.