Berlin – The Gorillas employees had not expected much productive from the visit of Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil when they met the SPD politician on Tuesday afternoon at Lausitzer Platz in Kreuzberg. The minister stands in front of a basketball cage, which is adorned with a banner with the ironic inscription “Norillas”. He is surrounded by cameras, microphones and writing pads. Only a few employees can work their way up to him. Before that, he had a private conversation with two representatives of the management.
On the edge of the hustle and bustle, shortly before the minister arrives, a rider, one of the riders, says: “I just hope he’ll let us talk too”. It is clear to him that Heil has a political mandate. What does he expect from the meeting? Will that change anything? “I’m skeptical,” says the rider. First of all, Heil asks those employees who, due to the crowd of press people, make it close to the high-profile visitor: “Where are you from?” Then he reports on the conditions that the employees have been publicly complaining about for months.
And so the Minister of Labor learns again about the known problems with work equipment, probationary periods, time limits and dismissals. The employees address sexism in everyday working life, the slow introduction of corona rapid tests by the company and inadequate fire protection in the warehouses.
Kiziltepe: The organization has to come from below
With the appearance of Heils it is clear: The protest of the gorillas workers has reached the federal politics. That is also a success of the strikers. They continue to attract attention and reinforce their demands. A federal minister does not appear on site every day to express his solidarity. But the general election is due in around two months. And the SPD, which hardly reaches more than 16 percent in surveys, wants to position itself as the protective power of the weak and disenfranchised – that’s where the protesting Gorillas employees come in handy.
It’s a campaign appearance. But not only. The Bundestag member Cansel Kiziltepe from Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg has been supporting the protest for better working conditions for weeks. The SPD politician invited her party friend Heil to Kreuzberg. She told the Berliner Zeitung: “It is very important that the employees organize themselves. Neither politics nor the trade unions can force a works council election. That has to come from below, from within the workforce. “
Gorillas says they support a works council
It is one of the rights of employees in Germany to be able to elect a works council. At least in theory. In practice, however, there are repeated attempts by companies to prevent precisely that. The works council issue was also one of the reasons for the escalation at Gorillas. The employees first elected an electoral board at the beginning of June. The law provides for this hurdle. But the management wanted to have the election reviewed by a court. According to the official justification, not all employees had equal access to voting. Was that an attempt to consciously undermine employee rights?
Meanwhile, Gorillas has given in rhetorically. At the end of last week, founder and CEO Kagan Sümer was quoted in a press release as saying: “Supporting and facilitating the election of a works council is not only our duty, it is also our conviction.” through the works council to allow the riders’ perspectives to “flow even more into our business decisions”.
It is not clear how much conviction and how much calculation there is behind these statements. However, the SPD MP Kiziltepe also registered a new openness. “The correspondence with gorillas has been good so far, they seek conversation and try to find solutions,” she says. Further demands such as shorter probation periods and longer-term employment contracts would still have to be discussed.
Labor rights need to be examined
It is therefore doubtful whether the workers’ protests will quickly die down. Because even the election of a works council does not solve all problems. There is still talk of late salary payments, heavy rucksacks – and a business model that is problematic per se. Delivery services such as Gorillas, but also their worst competitor, Flink, promise delivery within ten minutes.
The Berlin start-up expert Sven Ripsas from the University of Economics and Law sees no added value in this. “I can’t see why a normal purchase has to be with the customer within ten minutes,” he told the Berliner Zeitung. An intelligent business model is ecological and improves life. “It’s still open with Gorillas,” says the professor of entrepreneurship.
At Lausitzer Platz, the Minister of Labor will be asked about specific steps for the employees. Heil says he will investigate the allegations and pursue the protests. The SPD politician encouraged the employees to establish the works council. Should the company stand up, also with the help of the public prosecutor’s office. “I can’t get involved in labor disputes right away, but I can get information,” says Heil.
He will also examine whether there is a need to “work out new law and statutes”. He is alluding to his draft law to “push back” the unfounded time limit. Despite the coalition agreement, nothing came of it during this legislative period. Even after the event, the skeptical employees draw a rather sober balance. They hardly heard anything. Too many journalists. The ones that were supposed to be the issue were on the sidelines. Again.