In the fabric of our daily routines, the term “gig workers” might seem nebulous, yet their presence is ubiquitous. They are the individuals who seamlessly navigate through our lives, often unnoticed—the delivery person who brings hot meals to our door or the courier responsible for delivering our online purchases. These unsung heroes traverse bustling streets and neighborhoods, facilitating the convenience we often take for granted.

My own encounter with the invaluable service of a gig worker brought forth a profound appreciation for their role in our lives. It was a morning marred by the sudden loss of my bag—containing my identification, credit cards, and cell phone—on my way to work. Little did I know that this mishap would lead me to a fortuitous meeting with an individual whose kindness and dedication exemplified the essence of these overlooked workers.

The serendipitous turn of events led me to Altin Fetahu, a resilient worker from Albania, who has been resident in Greece since 1995. His journey across borders was one undertaken by countless others seeking the promise of a better tomorrow. For the past 15 years, Altin has been navigating the bustling streets of Greece as a dedicated delivery worker.

Altin Fetahu

Seated across from me at a familiar chain cafeteria, Altin shared glimpses of his life as a gig worker. “This is my full-time job,” he asserted, his tone carrying the weight of years of commitment. Reflecting on his occupation, he offered a candid perspective on its pros and cons. The freedom of flexible hours and the occasional gratuity from customers were counterbalanced by the perils inherent in his line of work. “Time goes by quickly,” he mused, “but the roads can be perilous. A single mishap could leave me disabled.”

Financially, Altin’s reality was a blend of perseverance and challenges. “I’m not entirely satisfied,” he confessed, lamenting the relentless rise in living expenses. With a monthly income of 800 euros, half of which is swiftly claimed by rents, the financial strain was palpable. “As the kids grow, expenses increase,” he added with a hint of concern, bearing the weight of familial responsibilities.

However, amidst the struggles, Altin found solace in the stability and benefits offered by his current employment. “I have security, bonuses, social security stamps, days off,” he remarked, acknowledging the semblance of security in an otherwise unpredictable profession. He deliberated about an alternative opportunity that promised higher pay but at the cost of reduced benefits, pondering the trade-offs inherent in such decisions.

The pivotal moment in our interaction came when Altin recounted his discovery of my lost bag. His decision to return it was a testament to his integrity. “I thought about the person who lost the bag and what they would have to go through to get their documents,” he recalled. In a world where temptation lurks in every corner, Altin’s moral compass remains steadfast. “I know that most people would be tempted by the things inside, by the cell-phone for example; I don’t have a phone like that, I don’t have the money to buy one,” he confessed, referencing the valuable items within. “But it’s not right. I have not done wrong.”

His altruistic gesture was rooted in a deep-seated belief that kindness begets kindness. “Maybe somewhere, someone else will help me because I have done a good deed,” he surmised, embracing the notion of goodwill reverberating through the fabric of society.

Altin’s aspirations for the future are interwoven with a father’s unwavering dedication to his children. Despite his desire to stay in Greece, he harbors dreams of relocating to Canada for the betterment of his offspring. His wish for a brighter future for his family illuminated the sacrifices he was willing to make.

However, Altin’s story is not merely a singular tale of resilience and generosity. It encapsulates a broader societal issue—one where the demand for gig workers in the food and beverage delivery sphere outstrips the available workforce. The surge in digital platforms facilitating swift deliveries, such as efood and Wolt, has created an unprecedented imbalance between demand and supply.
The onset of the pandemic exacerbated this shortage, compelling even venerable establishments like the Grand Bretagne hotel to venture into delivery services in order to survive. Industry experts, including Christos Vitsikanos, have highlighted a shortfall of approximately 10,000 positions in the delivery sector alone. This scarcity extends beyond delivery drivers to constitute a broader challenge securing labor across the hospitality sector.

To redress labor woes, the European Union has introduced new guidelines aimed at safeguarding the rights of gig workers. These regulations seek to rectify the misclassification of workers as self-employed, ensuring access to essential benefits and protections.

The EU has also taken proactive measures to regulate the working conditions of gig workers employed via smartphone application-based services. The introduction of regulations aims to make these individuals eligible for full-time employee benefits, while imposing constraints on how digital platforms manage their workforce through algorithms.

Altin Fetahu’s story serves as a reminder that, behind the mask of everyday transactions, lie individuals whose integrity and dedication shape our shared experiences. His story amplifies the urgent need to address labor shortages, while advocating for fair treatment and recognition of those without whom the gig economy could not function.