It's been a busy week for gig economy news. European food delivery platforms are leading the race to zero for tech stocks, as investors run for safer ground. Uber is down-sizing in response to the new economic conditions. In Brussels, the European Parliament's rapporteur has caused a stir by proposing amendments to the draft platform work directive which would substantially strengthen workers' protections. And in France, President Macron's "social dialogue" elections for platform workers, currently ongoing, have been exposed as a "sham". Any one of these stories could have been our focus for analysis this week, but the GMB's shock union recognition agreement with Deliveroo, the first of its kind, has trumped the rest.
You can read our news report here to get the key information and reaction to the deal. Suffice to say, it has caused widespread debate, and some anger, within the platform workers' movement, not only because of the contents of the deal but also because the GMB has done this in advance of doing the hard yards of organising food delivery couriers, so they don't have any mandate among couriers for what they have negotiated. Nonetheless, this will have an effect on all union organising in the sector, and not just in the UK.
Crucially, as part of the deal the GMB states that it agrees with Deliveroo that food delivery couriers are self-employed, not employees. Not only does this provide the food delivery platforms opposed to employment status a huge propaganda coo to have a major union behind their main political lobbying aim, it is entirely at odds with what the vast majority of unions across Europe have been actively campaigning for, including the European Trade Union Confederation, which the GMB - via the TUC (which also celebrated this deal) - is a member of.
Furthermore, labour law professor Alan Bogg has pointed out that GMB's self-employed position "effectively closes off" the IWGB's legal bid for statutory union recognition on the basis that Deliveroo riders are workers because GMB's "voluntary agreement will block a statutory recognition claim". So not only is this deal a political goal for Deliveroo, it's also a legal goal for the company against IWGB, the union which has actually been organising food delivery couriers since 2016. CEO Will Shu, who has seen the company's share price fall more than 15% in a month, has been given something to smile about.
Of course, this is not the first time the GMB has signed a dodgy deal with a big platform. Last year's groundbreaking deal with Uber was in some ways worse than this one, because at least in this case the GMB has won an agreement for collective bargaining over pay. Over a year on from the GMB-Uber deal, it's not clear what Uber drivers have gained from the union's 'recognition' by the US ridehail giant. As we reported in this newsletter last week, Uber have boasted in their latest earnings report that their UK ‘take rate’ – the amount of money the platform earns per ride – almost doubled over the first year of the GMB-Uber recognition deal. Whether the labour share goes up or down is not a bad metric to judge union performance. Meanwhile, Uber have used the social justice legitimacy GMB has given them to win political influence in the London mayor's office, another boon the company was happy to boast about in its earnings report.
The GMB-Deliveroo deal is by no means the worst GEP has seen, with some truly shocking cases coming out of the US. The GMB will no doubt argue that the deal has got their foot in the door, a position from which the union can begin to recruit in sizeable numbers as riders believe they hold some sway at the top table. But 'partnership' unions tend to appear to hold sway right up until the moment when it really matters, and at that moment power suddenly becomes much more important than partnership for the company. The alternative is to build power from the bottom-up, so that when it really matters workers have the power to act, leaving the company pleading for partnership. Gig workers will have to decide which type of trade unionism - partnership or counter-power - they believe in.
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator
Gig Economy news round-up
- EUROPEAN FOOD DELIVERY STOCKS SLUMP: The re-opening following the worst of the pandemic crisis combined with surging inflation is turning investors off European food delivery stocks, with their value tumbling over the past week. Delivery Hero, the German multinational which owns Glovo and FoodPanda, fell below its 2017 IPO price on Tuesday [10 May], losing three-quarters of its market value this year, before a slight rebound before the end of the week. It's the Stoxx 600 Index’s worst performer in 2022. Just Eat is also down 27% over the past month, while Deliveroo's stock price fell to just €1 on Tuesday before rebounding slightly. All three companies - the three largest European-owned food delivery platforms - are down over 50% in the past year. Delivery Hero has been accused of a lack of transparency by some investors after not publishing its order numbers for the first quarter of 2022. Read more here.
- UBER CEO SAYS COMPANY AUSTERITY IS COMING: Dara Khosrowshahi, the CEO of Uber, has told staff in an internal e-mail that the company will rein in spending in order to show investors it can be profitable. The leaked e-mail, which was sent last Sunday [8 May], said hiring would be a "privilege" from now on and the "least efficient" marketing spend would be axed. The inflation crisis is leading investors to run from tech stocks, with digital labour platforms suffering in particular. Uber's stock value is down 40% in the last six months. Khosrowshahi added that: "In times of uncertainty, investors look for safety. Channeling Jerry Maguire, we need to show them the money." Uber has famously never turned a profit, and its Q1 earnings report showed a $5.9 billion loss. Read more here.
- PLATFORM 'SOCIAL DIALOGUE' ELECTIONS BRANDED A "SHAM": The French state organised vote for platform workers to elect representatives in negotiations with the platforms has been branded a "sham" by one trade union, as turnout among private hire drivers was just 1.5% on Friday, and 0.8% among riders. President Emmanuel Macron's government passed a Social Dialogue law for the creation of the arbitration process in February, with the government playing the role of mediator between the platform and their representatives. However, the election has been boycotted by key groups including CLAP, a collective of riders, and INV union, which represents Uber drivers. The newspaper L'Humanite revealed that some of the election organisers worked for Uber, and that Uber was using its internal messaging system to try to get drivers to vote, even phoning some of them, further undermining the election's credibility. There have also been technical problems with the voting, with some unions planning a legal challenge to have the vote annulled. Ben Ali Brahim, INV union general secretary, said that the revelations of Uber's role in the organisation of the vote meant "the drivers understand that these elections serve the platforms", adding, "I advise [the organisers] to stop everything, it's a sham!" Read more here.
- DIVIDE IN EU COUNCIL OVER PLATFORM WORK DIRECTIVE: The EU Council, which is made up of the heads' of member-states in the EU, is divided over the draft platform work directive, according to a report in Italian newspaper La Repubblica. After the European Commission published the draft proposal in December, it requires support from both the EU Council and the European Parliament before it can be enacted into law. But the newspaper reports that Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Portugal are for "more protective legislation towards workers", while another group "in Northern and Eastern Europe led by France is resisting this legislative proposal in the name of innovation and the specificity of national pension systems." The president of the Council, which rotates every six months, is currently French President Emmanuel Macron, who is known to be a close ally of the digital labour platforms. The report comes as the European Parliament's rapporteur, Elisabetta Gualmini, has written a draft report on the directive proposing amendments to the text which would significantly strengthen worker protections. Read more here.
- GLOVO RIDERS ELECT 13 UNION DELEGATES: Workers at Spain's largest food delivery platform, Glovo, have elected their union delegates, in a first for the Southern European country. After a CCOO union strike last year at Glovo's 'dark stores' in Barcelona, where riders are employed, a tentative agreement was reached for negotiations. Now, the eight warehouses have been officially established as a unionised workplace, and they have elected 13 delegates to represent them in negotiations. 10 of the delegates were elected from CCOO, and three from UGT, the other big Spanish union. 56% of workers at the dark stores voted in the election, 175 out of a workforce of 312. "We will continue working so that Glovo workers can empower themselves, establishing a stable dialogue with the company for collective defense, promotion and improvement of working conditions," CCOO Catalunya said in a statement after the vote. Read more here.
- AUSTRIA FAIRWORK PLATFORM RATINGS REVEALED: Fairwork, the research-action academic foundation, have published their first ratings for digital labour platforms in Austria, finding a wide range of scores. Lieferando, Just Eat's brand in Austria and Germany, scored eight out of ten, but ridehail platforms Uber and Bolt received just two and one out of ten respectively. The study found that Austria's 'corporatist' traditions between unions and big business, with high levels of collective bargaining coverage, is not reflected in the emerging platform economy, which "is characterised by low union density, low earnings and increasingly precarious working conditions". Cleaning sector platform ExtraSauber, a Vienna-based start-up which operates in six Austrian cities, received five out of ten, while Mjam, a Delivery Hero-owned food delivery platform which is dominant in Austria, received four out of ten. Read the report 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.