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Why it will take more than legislation to rein in the platforms

It was interesting to watch members of the European Parliament debate EU legislation for improving conditions for platform workers on Monday. You can read our full report on the debate and vote here.

Despite the fact that the parliament in Strasbourg has minimal power in the EU, it was heartening to hear MEPs express a broad consensus in favour of change for platform workers: a legal presumption of employment; no 'third party status'; strong worker protections from AI and rights to access their data; collective bargaining rights; and the right to protective equipment and health & safety at work for on-location platform workers. Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, who does have serious legislative power and has been spending a lot of time indulging platform companies in meeting after meeting, certainly acted as if he was on board with the MEPs, describing a legal presumption of employment unless platform companies can prove otherwise as "a good solution". Time will tell if he honours that remark.

Even if Schmit's legislation proposes the majority of what MEPs have demanded, the experience of the 'Riders Law' in Spain, which came into force one month ago, shows that there are no guarantees that the platform giants will play ball. Strong action on the part of each member state to ensure compliance will also be required. 

Far from putting an end to the court battles between unions and platforms, the Riders Law has set off an avalanche of new ones, while Spain's Labour Inspectorate is inundated with complaints that platforms, and the subcontractors they are outsourcing workers too, are continually disregarding their rights as employees. The campaign group RidersXDerechos say that this has been happening for five years because the platforms would rather pay the fines than abide by the laws, and the only way to get them to take the law seriously is to beef up the judicial system and the sanctions. 

Does the Spanish state have the political will and the fiscal fire-power to police the platform giants? The same question could be asked of all 27 member-states if a version of Spain's Riders Law is rolled out across Europe.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

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Gig Economy news round-up

  • DUTCH COURT FINDS UBER DRIVERS ARE WORKERS: The Court of Amsterdam ruled on Monday [13 September] that Uber drivers are employees, not independent contractors, in a case brought forward by the FNV trade union. The ruling follows similar verdicts in Belgium and the UK. Uber said it would appeal against the decision and has no plans to employ Dutch Uber drivers. Read more here.
  • FRENCH PLAN TO STOP APP SUB-LETTING: Four gig employers - Uber Eats, Frichti, Deliveroo and Stuart - have presented a plan to the French Government on how to stop the practice of apps being sub-letted. App sub-letting works by the owner of an account passing their log-in details onto another worker - usually a migrant who does not have the legal right to work in the country - and taking a cut of his or her's earnings. Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne described the proposal as a "first step" to end "unacceptable practices". The plan includes strengthening fraud detection technologies, more state collaboration and a 'charter of good practice'. Read more here
  • GLOVO BUYS TWO GROCERY START-UPS: Spanish food delivery platform Glovo is investing heavily in app-based grocery delivery, with the acquisition of Spanish and Portuguese start-ups. Spain’s Lola Market and Portugal’s Mercadão, which both have relationships with big supermarkets like Carrefour and Lidl, have been bought. Glovo's 'Q-Commerce division' for on-demand grocery delivery is expected by the company to reach a gross transaction value of €1 billion by the end of 2022. Read more here
  • WORKERS BILL DEBATED IN HOUSE OF LORDS: A private member's Bill proposed by Lord John Hendy QC to the UK's unelected second chamber proposes to change the UK's employment status system so that all worker's get full rights and protections. Currently, the UK has a 'third status' of employment called 'Limb (b)', which does not provide the full protections of employee status, such as against unfair dismissal. The Bill also proposes to flip the presumption of employment so that it is companies, not workers, that have to prove a worker is not self-employed. The second-reading of the Bill was debated in the House of Lords this week. Find out more about the Workers Bill here.
  • SENATE ENDORSES 'RIDERS LAW': Spain's second chamber, the Senate, has officially given its seal of approval to the so-called 'Riders Law', which seeks to ensure all app-based food delivery workers are presumed to be employees and gives their union's access to company algorithms. The Senate voted 153 in favour and 107 against, with 17 amendments and a veto, proposed by right-wing parties PP and Vox, all rejected. The Riders Law already came into force on 12 August. Read more here.
  • ADCU ANNOUNCE UK UBER STRIKE: UK private hire driver union ADCU has announced that it will hold a one-day strike of its Uber drivers on 28th September. The strike demands are an end to unfair dismissals, paying for all working time on the app (in line with the UK Supreme Court ruling) and to end up front pricing for fares. The union is calling on passengers "not to cross the digital picket line" on the day of the strike.
  • IWGB COURIERS BOYCOTT A MCDONALD'S IN LONDON: Food delivery couriers in the IWGB union refused to accept orders from a McDonald's restaurant in London on Friday for 24 hours [17 September], after the local council forced workers away from their normal location to a covid-19 testing centre that is frequently full and has no toilet access. The riders have tried to engage the Council and the restaurant to find a solution but have so far been ignored. Read more here.

Have we missed important news on the gig economy in Europe this week? E-mail Ben at [email protected] to help us improve our news round-up.

On GEP this week

From around the web

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New paper by the Common Wealth think-tank on how to scale up co-operative platform alternatives.

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This paper explains the recent updates which have been made to improve the Online Labour Index, which was launched in 2016. Access the OLI here.

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A long-read feature piece on how NYC delivery workers are building solidarity with one another against the odds.

What's coming up?

- The next stage in the Gorrilas' riders court hearing for unlimited contracts is on September 20th in Berlin. They are asking for solidarity at the court. Click here for details.

- The Seeding Project presents the results of its two year research project on digitalisation and the social economy at a 21st September face-to-face and virtual conference. Details and to register here.

- WageIndicator Foundation will host a virtual conference on 24th September exploring migration and telemigration in the gig economy. Click here for the agenda and to register.

- Elite Taxi Barcelona, the taxi union, has announced a mobilisation on 28th September against attempts to 'Uberise' the city. 9am in the Plaza España. Details here

- The ADCU union will hold a national Uber strike in the UK on 28th September. Details here

- The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) will host a conference on 28th September on 'making platform companies respect the rules'. Click here for the full programme and here to register.

- The European Trade Union Institute will hold a two-day conference online and face-to-face on 'labour rights & the digital transition'. The event will be held in Brussels on 28th and 29th of October. See the programme here

- The European Commission will announce its legislative proposal for improving the conditions of platform workers on 8th of December. 

Know of more events or actions that we should be highlighting? Let us know at [email protected].

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Get in touch

The Gig Economy Project is a media network for gig workers and we welcome contributions from workers, writers, academics, activists - anyone who wants to stand up for gig workers' rights. 

If you would like to write for the site, discuss arranging an interview with GEP, or simply have information about developments in the gig economy in Europe you think we should be aware of, get in touch. 

Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at [email protected] or send a direct message to the Twitter @project_gig.

And if you like the Gig Economy Project weekly newsletter, why not send the link to subscribe to a friend or colleague?

The Gig Economy Project is a Brave New Europe production. If you want to help GEP expand our work, visit BraveNewEurope.com to make a donation.

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