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April 16, 2020

Something’s up with Lime

The multinational company Lime, worth €2 billion, suspended its operation in Greece due to COVID-19. A months-long investigation, however, reveals that the problems began long before the pandemic.

Edited by Iliana Papangeli
Translated by Gigi Papoulias

 

Ifn recent weeks, employees who worked for Lime before they suspended services due to the coronavirus, as well as former Lime employees, have been anxious.

But why is that? The e-platform where employees (whose contracts were suspended due to the pandemic), can apply for the €800 allowance that they are entitled to by the government, has been up and running since April 1, 2020.

However, when current Lime employees (before the pandemic broke out), as well as former Lime employees filled out the online forms, they realized that they do not appear to be beneficiaries for the allowance.

The reason lies in the way in which the multinational company, with a value estimated at $2.4 billion and a presence in more than 140 countries, operates in Greece. As everything indicates, however, the problems for the company began much earlier.

Solomon MAG presents the results of a months-long investigation, which show that behind the cleverness of the technological innovation that Lime invokes, there exists a reality that its employees experience, which is characterized by certain grey areas.

The arrival of Lime in Greece

Let’s start from the beginning.

Lime was launched in the US in July 2017 as a bicycle rental company, and then expanded its activity to include electric scooters. On an international level, the micromobility industry, which includes electric scooters, is seen as the future in the field of transportation and therefore has attracted the interest of companies such as Uber and Lyft, as well as traditional automotive giants such as BMW.

From the summer of 2018 until today, Lime has raised more than $640 million in funding. Its sponsors include Uber and Alphabet (Google’s parent company), and its value before the pandemic was estimated at $2.4 billion.

Lime operates in at least 140 markets. Lime came to Greece in November 2018, as the first company in Greece to offer electric scooter rental services through an app. The company “Lime Transportation Technology” (aka “Lime”) was founded on November 18, 2018 with an initial capital of €10,000 and is a Limited Liability Company (LTD), based in Attiki.

Thessaloniki, the first Greek city to introduce Lime scooters, is the company’s flagship location.

 

One month after the establishment of the domestic company, electric scooter rental services began in Thessaloniki. This was followed by the expansion of Lime’s presence in Athens in January 2019, and then in Heraklion, Crete, where the local municipal authority decided to remove the scooters until there was a relevant legal framework for their operation. Thus, the third Greek city where one can find the characteristic green scooters is Rethymno, Crete.

In the year and a half since then, Thessaloniki has become the company’s flagship city in terms of the domestic market: most of its staff are employed there, and that is where the highest volume of scooter rides have been noted. So that’s where the majority of Lime’s profits come from. Sources from the company told Solomon MAG, “Thessaloniki has as many rentals as Athens and Rethymno combined.”

Many times, the scooters end up in the Thermaikos Bay. According to the legal complaint filed by the employees, they were forced to retrieve scooters from the bay, however they were not provided with proper equipment to do so.

 

Employment at Lime through Adecco

For the user, the way the service works is simple: you download the app on your mobile phone and through the app you can locate available scooters on the map in mostly central areas of the city.

Using your mobile phone, you scan the scooter’s QR code, which unlocks the scooter (for a €1 charge) and then you can use the scooter. Each minute of use costs €0.16 and the charge is made to the credit card that the customer has linked to his account.

In order to provide this simple user experience, it takes a team of people working behind the scenes.

The first category Lime employees is the executives. In addition to an Italian executive who appears to be the manager of the company and of their offices in Israel, (responsible for the overall supervision), our information revealed that until recently there were two Greek operational managers at Lime, responsible for the Greek market, who were the only employees who had employment contracts with the company itself.

A second category of employees is the “juicers”. These are the people who collect and charge the scooters, and then return them to various areas where users can access them. Juicers works on a freelance basis for the company. At Lime, however, there’s a third category of employees with employment contracts, which includes staff of various specialties.

According to the legal complaint, the employees describe inadequate safety precautions in regards to their own health and safety, at the company’s warehouse in Thessaloniki.

 

These include drivers (who transport scooters to various places from the company’s warehouse), mechanics and assistant mechanics (who repair them when they have problems), specialists (who identify which scooters have an issue), and shift supervisors.

The staff working in these specialties at Lime don’t have contracts with the company itself, but with Adecco.

Adecco is a Temporary Employment Company. It was founded in Greece in 2000 and is the Greek branch of the Swiss giant, which is currently the second largest human resources company in the world. In essence, as a Temporary Employment Company, Adecco hires employees and then “lends” them to other client-companies.

Sources at Lime who spoke to Solomon MAG, said that the initial interview for a job at Lime takes place with executives of the company itself (in Thessaloniki, at its centrally-located warehouse), and if there’s an agreement between the two sides, the new employee is then directed to the Adecco offices to sign their contract.

On the employment contracts of the staff we talked to, Lime Transportation Technology Ltd. appears as an indirect employer and Adecco HR SA as a direct employer.

The first legal complaint

On November 19, 2019, a legal complaint was filed against the two companies, which was co-signed by employees who had signed contracts with Adecco and were employed by Lime.

What’s interesting is that the legal complaint is signed by the leaders of all the relevant departments in the Thessaloniki office. In essence, they are the department heads responsible for each specialty.

According to the authors of the legal complaint, (who remain anonymous due to the confidentiality clause they signed in their contracts), the details mentioned in the six-page complaint were reported to their superiors at both companies repeatedly, however there was no result.

The first thing that authors of the complaint argue is that the roles and positions that appear on the contracts they signed do not correspond to the duties they actually perform. They say they appear on the contracts as “miscellaneous employees” and “external workers / errand-runners” – something which we can confirm by the contracts available to us.

However, besides the drivers, the other categories (shift supervisors, chief mechanics, specialists-assistant mechanics), “do not perform any errands at all, but on the contrary their duties include highly specialized internal work, such as repairing scooters using dangerous tools (for ex, grindstone), as well as purely administrative tasks (especially shift supervisors), such as shift planning, training of employees and external contractors, recording and implementing initiatives for the smooth running of the business, etc.”

By the contracts made available to Solomon MAG, employees appear on the contracts as “miscellaneous employees” and “external workers / errand-runners”, job titles which they say do not correspond to their actual duties.

 

This condition has two consequences.

On the one hand, as they claim, they lose the protection of valuable experience and the salaries they receive do not reflect the actual work they are performing. On the other hand, questions arise as to the type of insurance they have in the event of an accident (for ex, with tools such as the grindstone).

As per their contracts, they appear to perform “external work”, thus it is uncertain what is provided in the case of a work-related accident at the company’s warehouse in Thessaloniki where they are actually employed.

The authors of the legal complaint also report on their own safety and that of their colleagues. As they argue, “in most cases, basic safety rules are not followed and even the most fundamental precautions are not taken, which results in the enormous risk of causing an accident at work.”

They also note that proper training has not taken place and information has not been given in regards to possible carcinogenic fumes generated by the sprays used by mechanics in the warehouse, as well as on the fumes emitted by scooters’ batteries, which occasionally overheat and catch fire.

They report that on the roof of the warehouse where they work, “there are significant leaks, which result in the risk of electric shock” due to the dozens of multiple plugs and extension cords that are in use at the same time.

The complaint also includes issues of unprofessional behavior by superiors towards employees, the imposition of unrealistic targets and exhaustive shifts, the ban on receiving summer vacation days which are required by the law and a case of physical violence against an employee by a supervisor.

In addition, the legal complaint raises another issue that has to do with the duration and type of contract they signed, contrary to what was verbally agreed.

According to the legal complaint, during their interview, the employees were promised that their contracts would be initially for 15 days, then for a month, then for three months, then for a year, finally reaching contracts of indefinite duration.

But that did not happen. A typical example is the case of an employee who, despite initial promises, appears to have signed five consecutive monthly employment contracts.

Another issue mentioned in the legal complaints is the company withholding legal rights such as the right to time off (vacation days or for childcare leave).

 

The second legal complaint

On December 16, 2019, Lime celebrated its one-year presence in Thessaloniki, offering free unlocking of its scooters for a week.

Ten days earlier, another legal complaint and protest by Lime workers had taken place at the company’s offices in Halandri and at Adecco in Maroussi. It is worth noting that the new legal complaint was signed by almost all 32 people, which, according to the staffing lists available to us, is the maximum number of people ever employed by Lime in Thessaloniki.

The new five-page legal complaint states what was already included in the first legal complaint, that: drivers, mechanics and specialists-assistant mechanics are incorrectly declared on contracts as “miscellaneous employees” and “external workers / errand-runners” what is stated in their contracts does not correspond to reality they work in precarious conditions and “in most cases basic safety rules are not followed” there are leaks which cause risk of electric shock fumes are released in the workplace, possibly harmful to their health

Also stated in the complaint is that many of the employees are asked to sign monthly contracts every month, despite the promises given to them for an annual contract “and, above all, despite the indisputable fact that undeniably, by nature our duties and the work we provide, we unquestionably cover fixed and ongoing needs.”

As for the drivers, who are co-authors of the legal complaint, they assert that because they are not listed or declared anywhere on their contracts as drivers, they are uninsured and at risk in case of an accident.

The employees maintain that up until the second legal complaint was filed, a safety inspector had never checked the company’s warehouse.

 

The workers also claim that they were forced to retrieve scooters that ended up in Thermaikos Bay using improvised hooks they had to make themselves (and according to our information at their own expense). Furthermore, they did not receive relevant training or the authority to do so, and by performing this task, they risked possible infections by wading into the questionable waters of the Thermaikos Bay.

The second legal complaint also states that all the details mentioned in it had been brought to the attention of those responsible at the time, but to no avail.

It is worth noting that, according to documents and e-mails available to us, Adecco representatives had informed Lime employees that their bonus from last Christmas would be paid in two installments, something which is unlawful.

The email announcing that Christmas bonuses would be paid in two installments.

 

After the workers protested, however, it was agreed that the gift would be paid in one installment, as is required by law. The explanation given was that the previous notification was “inadvertent”.

The email which employees later received explaining the “inadvertent” mistake made in the first email.

 

Adecco’s response
We contacted Lime and Adecco in order to request a comment or statement from the two companies, regarding what has been reported in the legal complaints.


Specifically, we asked Adecco:

  • How many employees have signed a contract with your company and are employed by Lime?
  • What is Adecco’s position on the two legal complaints, filed by employees of Adecco and “indirect” employees of Lime, of which you were notified on November 19, 2019 and December 6, 2020?
  • In their legal complaints, the employees claim that they were promised indefinite contracts for those who were hired by Adecco and made available as “indirect” employees for Lime. Can you address and clarify this issue and can you tell us how many employees have indefinite contracts and how many fixed-term contracts?
  • In their legal complaints, the employees claim that they are declared, in their employment contracts, as “miscellaneous employees” and “external workers / errand-runners” a position/title that, as they maintain, is not equivalent to the work they actually perform. Can you comment on this issue?
  • In their legal complaints, the employees in Thessaloniki refer to the lack of proper training for and the existence of precarious conditions in the workplace. Can you comment on this issue?

 

We received the following statement from Adecco:

Adecco connects companies and job candidates, precisely responding to the needs of businesses for emergency staff, but also to the need of candidates to find work, in cases where candidates choose temporary employment. Adecco, as a Temporary Employment Company, investigates the market and locates properly-trained candidates for each position. Then, after the final selection by the client company, these candidates are hired by Adecco on behalf of the client company. The temporary employment model is based on a three-way relationship between Adecco, the client company and the employee.

Adecco as a Temporary Employment Company, by law can only enter into temporary, fixed-term employment contracts, which are concluded at the request of its customers based on the needs they have stated. In this context, it is understandable that the salary, duration, duties, place and time of work are determined exclusively by the client.

Adecco pays the employee all legal remuneration and in fact undertakes his/her insurance in the respective social security fund. At the same time, the employee enjoys the same rights as the respective permanent employees of the client company who hold corresponding positions.

In relation to our partnership with Lime, we have followed all the legal procedures provided by legislation regarding the provision of Temporary Employment Services by Adecco, which in this regard has fully guaranteed the rights of its employees.

The training, safety and health in the workplace are important issues and for this reason at Adecco we ensure – as far as the law allows – those conditions so that employees can grow as professionals and have all the tools they need to succeed. The care and diligence that we offer to our staff is our highest priority and therefore exceeds the minimum limits imposed by the current provisions of the law.


One finds that in the few paragraphs of the 300-word statement given to us, at no point did Adecco’s reply answer any of the questions we had asked.

However, one point is interesting: if by law Adecco can only offer fixed-term contracts, one could argue that the promises of indefinite contracts that the authors of the legal complaints claim to have received did not materialize from the outset.

There is also no specific answer to the safety and employment issues of employees.

A few months ago there was some tension between Lime and Adecco which resulted in a suspension of contract renewals for a few days.

 

Does Lime pay the required VAT (value-added taxes)?

In addition to the questions posed to both Lime and Adecco, we asked Lime to answer two more questions.

On May 13, 2019, I published a report stating that Lime, although listed as a Limited Liability Company (LTD) and is required to submit a VAT return each month, had not yet submitted any VAT returns (or contributions) to the Greek state.

On the date the report was published, six months had passed since the establishment of the company. According to our information, however, the company still has not paid VAT.

In the meantime, it is estimated that Lime’s revenues from the provision of services to the Greek market amount to millions of euro. Specifically, on September 17, 2019, the company announced that its scooters had made more than one million trips in Greece during the first nine months of operation in the country.

The electronic receipts show that users are charged 24% VAT.

 

Sources from the company estimate that, based on the information they have, from September 2019 until the arrival of the pandemic, it is extremely likely that at least one million more trips have been made.

With unlocking for each trip at €1 and an average trip, according to the same sources, is estimated at around €3, it is estimated that the company has earned even more revenue from its total presence in Greece.

Has Lime contributed their VAT payments to the Greek state? And what about the legal complaints? A company representative sent the following statement in regards to our questions:

”We value each and every worker at Lime and appreciate their contributions in helping ensure our riders can safely and reliably move around their cities. Lime’s employment partnerships comply with all local laws and requirements, and we take this responsibility very seriously and uphold the highest safety standards and care for all members of the team.”

The “confusion” with the €800 allowance

After almost two weeks of uncertainty and the exchange of many emails between employees, Lime, Adecco and a third multinational company offering tax support services, Lime employees will eventually receive the allowance they are entitled to from the suspension of its services due to COVID-19.

According to information from the company, the reason that the employees did not appear as beneficiaries was because although they were, in practice, working for Lime, which suspended its operation, their contracts were with Adecco, which due to the nature of the company, did not fall into the category of affected companies.

At the same time, however, the solution has not yet been found for employees who previously worked at Lime. As noted, this is due to the fact that the officials “forgot” to remove them from the online platform and so they still appear in the system as employees of the company, although they may currently work for another employer.

According to our information, the issue has gained the interest of the Labor Inspectorate. Our final question to Lime, was in relation to this issue.

But our question went unanswered.

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