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An article on VozPopuli about 'Twitch' peaked my interest this week. For those of you who are unaware, Twitch is an Amazon-owned video game live streaming platform, specialising in e-sports competitions. There are now many mini-celebrities who make a good living purely off live streaming their video gaming, engaging with their audience as they do so. Just like on Youtube, the content creator is remunerated based on the views he or she can get, with more views generating more ad revenues for the platform.

One of the more popular Twitchers goes by the name of El Xokas, a Galician-born streamer who caused a stir in February when he threatened to join other Spanish online content creators in moving to Andorra to avoid paying tax. Now, El Xokas (real name Joaquín Domínguez) has been caught up in a mini-scandal.

During a livestream, viewers noticed that he was logged-in to a 'fake' anonymous account which idolised himself and attacked his rivals. After trying to shrug it off, El Xokas was pushed by others in the Twitch community to apologise. In a 30-minute video, he revealed that he was obsessed with the pursuit of greater success on Twitch, which had been causing him mental health problems. Commenting in the VozPopuli article, Ekaitz Cancela, author of 'Awakening from the Technological Dream', said: "Twitch's algorithmic mechanisms are similar to those of Glovo or Uber".

He added: "Everyone who wants to make a living from creating content online will be forced to submit to these logics, since these platforms are very demanding and require many connections and the constant emission and consumption of information".

The intensity of output which is required to keep the attention of an audience which can easily gravitate to another Twitch streamer creates a mental strain on the content creators, as every stream requires significant emotional labour. The gig economy business model of the Twitch platform can at least partly explain the troubles of El Xokas.

Regardless of what we may think of El Xokas, there is now many people who have commodified their social media accounts to make money, whether it be an Instagram 'influencer', a Youtuber or someone who has tied their Twitter account to a pay-to-subscribe newsletter on Substack or Patreon. Just like in any industry, the money content creators make is vastly unequal: many (possibly most) will earn so little that they don't qualify for income tax, whereas El Xokas and his ilk are looking to find ways to hide their money from the tax man. The cornucopia which is the content creation community also deserve workers' rights.

What can be done? Annemarie Kern and Valentin Niebler have previously written on the Gig Economy Project about the Youtubers union, which was established in March 2018 after Youtube began reducing the income content creators could make from the platform. Alongside unionisation, regulation is clearly required to incentivise sustainable social media activity, ensure the algorithms are fair and transparent, and spread incomes more evenly among content creators. 

In otherwords, content creators need the same sort of changes as those in food delivery and ridehail. It's those changes which will undermine the sort of right-wing libertarianism which leads the likes of El Xokas to threaten to move to Andorra to avoid tax, by showing that its only collective solutions which can create a better future for all workers. In a week when the richest person in the world made a bid to buy Twitter, we should be more conscious than ever that social media algorithms aren't run in our collective interest, nor in the interests of content creators.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

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Gig Economy news round-up

  • DUTCH JUST EAT RIDERS ISSUE DEMANDS TO MANAGEMENT: A group of riders in 'The Radical Riders Union' in the Netherlands have demanded that Just Eat, known as Thuisbezorgd in the Netherlands, implement predictable hours, a living wage and stronger safety measures. Their statement reads: "We have worked hard during this pandemic, and in return our position is getting worse. Thuisbezorgd has continuously tried to satisfy its shareholders by cutting costs. This is done at our expense: by decreasing wages, endangering us without taking responsibility for injuries or damage to personal equipment, and by providing equipment that does not keep us dry or safe." Just Eat is the largest food delivery platform in Europe and employs its riders, either directly or via sub-contractors. There have been reports across Europe of wage cuts over the past six months. The riders have launched a petition for fellow riders and supporters to sign. 
  • JUST EAT TO FIRE 269 RIDERS IN FRANCE: The Dutch platform Just Eat moved to transform its French operations on Tuesday [12 April], announcing that it plans to axe 269 riders and move to a mixed-model of permanent contracts in some cities and an as yet undefined model in the rest of the country, which presumably would include 'self-employed' riders. The company currently employs around 800-900 riders on permanent contracts in France, so the job cuts represent over a quarter of all of its French riders. The company said it would continue to hire riders permanently in Paris and its suburbs, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Lille and Roubaix, but in 20 other cities it “plans to switch from an employee model to an alternative mode of delivery” which has yet to be defined. The re-organisation will be in place by the second half of 2022. Just Eat has previously said it planned to move to an employee model across the whole of Europe, but the firm's French general manager, Meleyne Rabot, insisted the change of tack did not mean that they were "going to abandon the employee model". Read more here.
  • JUST EAT MANAGEMENT ENJOY LUXURY ALL-EXPENSES PAID HOLIDAY IN THE ALPS: Just Eat may be slashing the pay of its riders across Europe in an apparent attempt to cut costs, but the food delivery firm can still afford a bit of luxury for hundreds of senior staff. The FT reports that an annual "four-day blowout" took place in the Swiss Alps last week. The all-expenses paid "skiing and team-building junket" included custom-made ski jackets, free drinks vouchers and "lip balm in the goody bags". The CEO, Jitse Groen, enjoyed a five-star hotel which included "a multilevel spa and a private mountain railway". The company's share price has fallen by more than 70% since October 2020, and the FT reported that its three biggest shareholders are all "thought to be deep underwater on their investments". Read more here.
  • DELIVEROO ISSUES FINANCIAL UPDATE: STILL FAR FROM PROFITABILITY: UK-based food delivery platform Deliveroo issued an update on its financial position on Tuesday [12 April], stating that it expects a tough year ahead as pandemic concerns ease. The company, which floated on the London stock exchange last year and is part-owned by Amazon, has seen its average users flat-line in the UK and Ireland in the final quarter of 2021, while there had been an increase of less than 100,000 in the rest of Europe over the same period. The financial update also showed the company's EBITDA (earnings before interests, taxes, depreciation and amortisation), a key measure of profitability, was negative. While the company did not publish an update on staff figures and costs, it claimed its courier retention rate was "robust", while UK data released earlier this year showed staff costs had risen 5.4% on the year. Read more here.
  • ADCU CLAIM MAYOR OF LONDON PASSED ON COMPLAINT ABOUT UBER TO UBER: The ADCU union, which organises private hire drivers in London, has claimed in an open letter to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, that he responded to a previous letter from the union calling on the Mayor to refuse to grant Uber a license due to its refusal to comply with some aspects of the UK Supreme Court ruling last year on the rights of Uber drivers by simply passing on the letter to Uber itself. The letter, signed by ADCU General Secretary James Farrar, states that the refusal to respond to the union's concerns and instead delegate the issue to the US ridehail giant was the equivalent of "sending the abused back to their abuser for justice". Khan ignored ADCU's concerns and granted Uber a new license to operate in London two weeks ago, in a decision the union condemned as a "tragic missed opportunity". The ADCU were the lead claimants in the Supreme Court case in February 2021 where it was found that Uber drivers were employees and should be paid from log-on to log-off. Uber has subsequently began employing drivers in the UK, but only pays them from pick-up to drop-off. Read more here.
  • GETIR TO SACK 200 RIDERS AND PICKERS IN MILAN: Turkish ultra-fast grocery delivery platform Getir is set to fire 200 riders and pickers in the Italian city of Milan, only a year after taking on 800 riders on fixed-term contracts. The contracts, which run out every six months, are not being renewed for a quarter of the workforce, with reports that some 'dark store' warehouses in the city have seen the number of pickers - who prepare the groceries for delivery - being halved. Mario Grasso, a trade unionist in Uiltucs, said of the firings: "This drastic reduction in staff contrasts with the stabilization guarantees we had obtained at the tables." Getir has also established itself in Turin and Rome but for the moment the job cuts only fall on the Milanese, in what is said to be a cost-cutting exercise. 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.

From around the web

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Artificial Intelligence: filling the gaps

Aida Ponce Del Castillo, researcher at the European Trade Union Institute, says that the European Commission's draft AI Act needs to be seriously strengthened if the rights of workers and consumers are to be protected.

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PODCAST: The platform economy in Europe with Wouter Zwysen and Jan Drahokoupil

ETUI researchers explain their important new survey on platform work in Europe in this podcast.

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I deliver your food – the cost of living crisis means I’m working a 70 hour week just to make minimum wage

Stefan Piratu, IWGB member and food delivery courier, writes in The Metro about the reality of gig work during the cost of living crisis.

Upcoming events

- The verdict of the criminal trial of Deliveroo in France for 'concealed work' will be announced on Tuesday, 19 April at 1pm. Demonstrators will mobilise outside the Paris Tribunal. See here for more details.

- Worker Info Exchange and the ADCU union are back in the Amsterdam Court on 18 May in their case against Uber and Ola Cabs over algorithmic transparency and protection from robo-firings. See here for more information.

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

Get Involved

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.

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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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