Gig workers and their families deserve better: Interview with Tomislav Kiš from trade union Novi Sindikat  

Big multinational platforms have created new and precarious forms of worker-employer relationships at a scale previously unseen. Cases like where a driver for the delivery company Glovo was killed at work, only to be fired by email for ‘non compliance’ the following day,  have exposed serious vulnerabilities for workers. We spoke with Tomislav Kiš from our grantee partner Novi Sindikat about what trade unions are doing to challenge these developments, and what changes are needed to put power back into people’s hands.
 

Tomislav Kiš is a labour rights activist and the General Secretary of Novi Sindikat. 

Novi Sindikat is a trade union in Croatia focused on advocating for workers’ rights and social justice across various industries, including platform work. With an Ecosystem grant from the European AI & Society Fund (EAISF), Novi Sindikat supports collaboration between trade unions advocating for and supporting the implementation of the EU Platform Work Directive. It aims to empower workers to engage in collective bargaining and effectively protect workers’ rights in an AI-driven world of work.   

 

EAISF: During 2023 the ReWolt protests in Croatia, Novi Sindikat supported platform workers to organise and represented their interests.  What prompted you to get engaged?  

Tomislav: Wolt, Bolt, and Glovo drivers in Croatia, supported by the Novi Sindikat and the Initiative for Workers’ Labor Law, demanded better working conditions and recognition of platforms as employers. These platforms have been exploiting workers without assuming any of the responsibility which other employers provide to their employees, such as social security.  

We supported the protests and got involved in representing the workers for several reasons: 

  • We realised that the problems faced by delivery workers are a broader social issue, especially in labour legislation, and that these issues cannot be resolved without organised and impactful action. Organising in this fight is the fundamental task and purpose of the union. 
  • We are a union that is always ready to engage in the fight for workers. 
  • We saw how the protests were organised, so we articulated the demands and helped improve the overall organization. 

We were also critical of the Croatian government’s views that the current Labour Law would resolve the issue of workers’ exploitation that delivery workers face. The Labour Law was and is insufficient, because it does not include gig workers or mandate platforms to treat their workers as employees. The Labour Law protects work through aggregators (intermediaries) without sufficient control, allowing these intermediaries to operate with minimal oversight. This effectively frees platforms, the actual employers, from any kind of responsibility for the working conditions and rights of the workers, leading to further exploitation and lack of job security for those in the gig economy. 

EAISF: You’ve invested time to build partnerships and capacity across trade unions in the region. What have you learned about common challenges that trade unions like yours face to effectively support platform workers?  

Tomislav: We have engaged in attempts to create a regional (and ideally broader) block for a coordinated fight against common problems. We have realised that the legislation in different countries is inadequately biased in favour of employers. The laws often predate the emergence of gig work and do not foresee solutions for the new situation. Examples include the inability to organize unions (like in Serbia) and the favouring of aggregator-established (platform) employment relationships without criteria for business conditions and without control of intermediaries’ work. We observed differences in perceiving and articulating problems and in forms of organization, yet the core issue remains the struggle to influence working conditions and financial outcomes everywhere. 

EAISF: Cases like the one in Italy where Glovo fired a driver via automated email over ‘non-compliance’ after he was killed in an accident are landing in the news headlines. What tools do trade unions already have or perhaps what they should develop, to challenge the power that the gig economy corporations have over people? 

Tomislav: The only solution is a change in the legal framework. Trade unions must become stronger to exert pressure on legislators to achieve solutions that can control and limit the power accumulated by platforms. From the moment Wolt, Glovo and Bolt entered the market, there has been no legal oversight over these companies and no protection for delivery workers. Think about any life situations or benefits we are used to, like paid sick leave, or something as standard as paid holidays. Without them, delivery workers and their families are left vulnerable.    

EAISF: You’ll complete the work you set out to do with the Ecosystem grant in autumn. What would you like to do next when it comes to protecting workers’ rights in the age of algorithms?   

Tomislav: We aim to organise workers in the gig industry, especially delivery workers, both domestic and foreign, so that we can exert pressure on the government to change existing laws or create new legal solutions. To achieve this, we need to strengthen workers’ capacity to organise and voice their demands, whether through advocacy or material support. One of our ideas is to develop our own application to control and verify the data managed by platforms. This would be the first step towards gaining insights about the way platforms operate and, consequently, limiting the power they develop based on collected data. Having hold of accurate data would strengthen the union’s negotiating power in regulating mutual relations. 

EAISF: Do you have any book or podcast recommendations for our readers? 

Tomislav: 

Book: Algorithms of Resistance: The Everyday Fight Against Platform Power by Bonini, T. & Treré, E. (2024) 

This book explores how everyday individuals resist and challenge the power dynamics enforced by digital platforms. It delves into the various methods and strategies employed by workers and activists to counteract the influence and control exerted by these platforms, highlighting the ongoing struggle for autonomy and justice in the digital age. 

Podcast: Will the Platform Work Directive Work? It discusses the newly agreed Platform Work Directive by the EU, which aims to improve working conditions for platform workers. Experts Antonio Aloisi, Tim Christiaens, and Jessica Pidoux analyse the Directive’s significance, legal implications, algorithmic management, and future research directions. The conversation provides insights into the potential impacts and controversies surrounding the regulation of platform work. 

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