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Georgian Public Defender’s Office slams ‘illegal’ gig economy contracts

16 June 2021
Photo: Shota Kincha/OC Media.

The Office of the Georgian Public Defender considers the ‘partnership agreements’ granted to couriers employed by companies such as Bolt Food and others illegal under Georgian law.

The Head of the Equality Department of Public Defender’s Office, Keti Shubashvili, told OC Media on Wednesday that their office was considering taking legal action to force Bolt Food to sign regular employment contracts with their couriers.

Delivery companies such as Wolt, Glovo, and Bolt Food, as well as the Bolt Taxi service, currently sign ‘partnership agreements’ with their workers instead of employment contracts, which exclude them from basic labour protections such as paid holidays, sick leave, and protection from unfair dismissal.

Legal actions to guarantee basic labour rights to workers in the gig economy have been gaining pace globally over the past year. In September 2020, a Spanish court ruled that Glovo couriers were employees of the company while the UK Supreme Court made a similar ruling in February against taxi company Uber.

‘In order to avoid labour guarantees, “partnership agreements” are made so that employees do not demand their holidays and fair remuneration, maternity leave, payment of 2% of their salary [into their pension funds], providing a break for employees during the day, and overtime pay’, Shubashvili said.

‘Dismissing an employee is not so easy [according to Georgian law] either. Employees also have the right to strike’, she said.

A protest by Bolt Food couriers on 4 April 2021. Workers in Georgia’s gig economy have increasingly been demanding access to basic labour protections. Photo: Shota Kincha/OC Media.

The revelations of possible legal actions come a day after Public Defender Nino Lomjaria published a scathing report on the ‘discriminatory’ working conditions at Bolt Food.

The Public Defender of Georgia found that Bolt Food violated the rights of the striking couriers by terminating their contracts and issued a number of non-binding recommendations to the company.

The Public Defender said that around 20 Bolt Food couriers had appealed to their office ‘indicating that the company had terminated its labour relations with them due to a labour rights protest and the formation of a trade union — restricting their access to the application’.

The Public Defender said that despite Bolt Food’s insistence to the contrary, this constituted a termination of employment.

The Public Defender said they were guided in their actions by legal precedents set internationally that those working through platforms such as Bolt Food were in labour relations with the company and therefore were legally entitled to guarantees under Georgian labour law.

Several protests by couriers from different companies have taken place in recent years. In March, several Bolt Food couriers said they had been locked out of the Bolt Food application following protests against changes in the way their tariffs for deliveries were calculated. Similar actions were taken against Glovo couriers after they went on strike in May.

Both companies have insisted that couriers working for them are not employees but ‘partners’ of their companies. Both have also denied blocking couriers for taking part in protests or strikes, instead accusing the couriers in question of being disruptive.

[Read on OC Media: Georgian couriers vow to create 'gig economy union' following Glovo strike]

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