France goes to the polls today for the first round of its presidential election. Current President Emmanuel Macron is favourite to top the first round, round but is closely followed by far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, with leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon in third, and a litany of other candidates on left and right with little chance of success - only two make it to the final round.
'What's any of this got to do with the gig economy', you may be asking? Well, Macron is perhaps the most pro-gig economy head of state in Europe, going all the way back to his time as Economy Minister in 2016, when he sought to defy then Prime Minister Manuel Valls by trying to stare down French taxi blockades against Uber. Valls won that particular battle, but Macron would win the war when he ascended from being a rebellious economy minister under Socialist Party President François Hollande to launching his own centrist formation, En Marche, which propelled him to the presidency in 2017.
Since taking the reins of power, Macron has been a loyal ally of the digital labour platforms, with French gig workers labouring under the "micro-entrepreneurs" status, which gives them significantly less rights than as employees. The French model is continually held up by platforms as the standard bearer, which is reason enough to be wary. According to the European Trade Union Institute's in-depth study of platform work in Europe, 5.6% of French workers have done platform work within the past 12 months, higher than the 4.3% average for the 14 European countries which were studied.
Macron's latest wheeze is to establish a 'social dialogue', which we have discussed before in this newsletter, whereby the government acts as an arbitrator between platforms and elected representatives of gig workers. Also, as the current President of the EU Council (which is rotated every six months) he is expected to use his position to seek to water down the European Commissions's Platform Work Directive, which proposed an employment status for platform workers. A recent remark by European Commissioner, Nicolas Schmit, stating that he "hopes" Macron is not using his power to take a red pen to the Directive is not exactly reassuring.
It may be for that reason that prominent activists and leaders in the French gig workers' movement appeared to be rallying behind Mélenchon in the final days of the campaign. As INV union leader Ben Ali Brahim, a key figure in challenging Uber in France, told me in a recent interview, the "France Unbowed" candidate is the only one who "talks about it often".
Indeed, in a recent interview in women's fashion magazine Marie Claire, Mélenchon described the "uberisation of work" as the "number one enemy of women". His manifesto states unambiguously that he will: "Requalify workers on digital platforms (Uber, Deliveroo, etc.) and all employees falsely considered to be self-employed under a salaried employment contract." Other policies to restrict sub-contracting and reduce the number of precarious employment contracts would also be favourable to gig workers.
The likelihood remains that it will be two versions of right-wing politics facing off in the final round, with a repeat of the 2017 contest between Macron and Le Pen. But who knows, maybe France will throw up a surprise, and put a pro-worker voice at the forefront of the national debate.
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator
Gig Economy news round-up
- PORTUGUESE GIG WORKERS STRIKE: Delivery couriers and drivers from Uber Eats, Glovo, Bolt and Take Away (Just Eat) took part in a strike action in Porto on 2 April against "poor working conditions". The strike was organised by the Porto-based Union of Workers of the Hotel, Tourism, Restaurants and Similar Industry of the North. The strike demands were an increase in the amount paid per kilometre, a night service charge, health and sickness insurance, a guaranteed minimum wage of €800 per month, support for the purchase of vehicles and their repair, paid vacations and a christmas allowance calculated proportionally to the amount of hours worked across the year. A platform work law was set to be voted on in the Portuguese parliament in December before it was delayed for a General Election. The new government has said it wants to push ahead with the law by July at the latest. Read more here.
- BELGIAN 'FAIR WORK' RATINGS REVEALED: Deliveroo, the UK-headquartered food delivery platform, received just one out of 10 in the first Fair Work rating of Belgium's platform economy. FairWork, an academic project run jointly by Oxford University's Internet Institute and the Berlin Social Centre, works with university departments all over the world to analyse the working conditions of platform workers and give them a rating out of ten. TakeAway (JustEat) received the highest score in Belgium with six out of 10, while two Belgian care platforms, Top Help and Yoopies, received zero out of 10. The Belgian Government proposed a law to regulate platform work in February which has been criticised by unions as insufficient, and is set to undergo debate in parliament shortly. Read the full report here.
- AN INTER-UNION CO-ORDINATOR OF RIDERS HAS BEEN ESTABLISHED IN VALENCIA: A number of unions in Valencia have joined forces to establish a new mechanism for "representing all the really combative groups of riders" where "combative trade unionism is coordinated". The new body, 'La Coordinadora Intersindical de Riders', said that even though the majority of riders were hired as employees now following the Rider's Law, they still faced o"ther types of irregularities such as temporary contracts in law fraud by ETT [intermediary firms] and the illegal transfer of workers through subcontracting". The new body plans to organise "a united fight against precariousness and exploitation", adding that the "time of the marathon days is over for a miserable salary." Read more here.
- UBER'S UK APP TO TAKE TRAIN, FLIGHT, COACH AND CAR RENTAL BOOKINGS: Uber has announced that it is expanding the mobility services which can be booked via its app in the UK. The app will offer train, flight, coach and car rental bookings from this summer. A similar multi-modal transport offer has been rolled out in some US states already. The transport companies partnering with Uber on this development have yet to be announced. Jamie Heywood, Uber's General Manager for the UK and Eastern Europe, said of the announcement: "You have been able to book rides, bikes, boat services and scooters on the Uber app for a number of years, so adding trains and coaches is a natural progression. Later this year we plan to incorporate flights, and in the future hotels, by integrating leading partners into the Uber app to create a seamless door-to-door travel experience.” Read more here.
- DELIVERY HERO DOWNGRADED TO JUNK BOND RATING: Delivery Hero, the German multinational which owns food delivery platforms across the world, has received another blow as credit rating agency S&P Global downgraded it's bond rating to a -B, considered junk status. The rating's blow came a day after the company announced that it was taking on new debt worth €1.4 billion. S&P said the grading was based on the company's low cash balance and "substantial" expenses. Delivery Hero's stock price is down over 50% over the past six months, after markets responded negatively to the company's takeover of Spanish food delivery platform Glovo, a move which was descried by a HSBC bank analysis as "like a bailout". Read more here.
- ADCU SLAM TRANSPORT FOR LONDON'S DECISION TO GRANT UBER A NEW LICENSE: Transport for London (TfL) has granted Uber a license for another two and a half years to continue operate in the UK capital. Uber responded to the news by saying it was "delighted", adding: "TfL rightly holds our industry to the highest regulatory and safety standards and we are pleased to have met their high bar." The decision was condemned by Yaseen Aslam, president of the ADCU union and chief claimant in the Supreme Court ruling last year which found that Uber drivers were employees and should be paid from log-in to log-off. Uber has subsequently hired drivers, but only pays them for the time they pick up a ride. Aslam said the decision was "another tragically missed opportunity" to force Uber to "abide by the Supreme Court ruling". He criticised London mayor Sadiq Khan directly, saying his decision will "inevitably lead to congestion, more pollution and more poverty".
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.