Sweden is the only EU member-state to formally object to the Platform Work Directive. Why Sweden, you may ask? A country historically associated with strong labour rights, with a government led by the Social Democrats, it's not immediately obvious why they would be seeking to put a block on a Directive that is clearly a step forward for platform workers' rights.
We got a good insight into why by speaking to Felix Söderberg and Jacob Lundberg, activists in GigWatch, a Swedish organisation examining the reality of the gig economy. You can listen to or read the full interview here. GigWatch have just published a report on the attitude of Sweden's political parties to the gig economy, ahead of the 11 September election.
What Söderberg and Lundberg explain is that a conservative defence of the Swedish model (or 'Nordic model') of industrial relations is behind Sweden's opposition to the Platform Work Directive. The argument goes that the Swedish model is based on collective bargaining between employers and unions, independent of political interference. The Directive is therefore a threat to the principle of political non-intervention, and in any case it should be up to Sweden to decide if it wants to legislate on this issue, not the EU.
What this perspective conveniently misses out is that the Swedish model has been degraded for years indirectly through neoliberal legislation that has strengthened the power of corporations over unions in Sweden. As Lundberg puts it: "The power balance has shifted and now it is very much in favour of employers and their organisations. The gig economy is just the latest incarnation of this trend."
The Social Democrats have been the main party of government for the entire time platform work has been a serious part of Sweden's economy, and have taken an entirely passive attitude to the issue, while the right-wing parties have been active in pushing the interests of the platforms. A theoretical defence of the Swedish model on the narrow terms of political non-intervention has been used as a smokescreen to undermine the Swedish model in practise, as there is almost no collective bargaining at all in Sweden's gig economy. Foodora, Sweden's biggest food delivery platform, signed a collective bargaining agreement, but it's sub-contracted workers, who now make up a majority of Foodora's riders, are not included in this agreement.
The Swedish Government's objection to the Platform Work Directive is therefore built on an organised hypocrisy, since they are neither regulating to address the issue in Sweden nor are they defending the Swedish model in practise, as to do so would mean ensuring workers have "the foundation to organise from," as Lundberg puts it, which means gig workers having the same rights as all other Swedish employees.
It's a sad irony that the Nordic model of industrial relations, which was achieved by a previous generation of workers making the most of their industrial and political power, is now being used by neoliberals to scupper the progress of a new generation of workers fighting for their rights, not just in Sweden but across Europe. Thankfully, there are unions and activists in Sweden who are challenging this, and fighting for a genuine renewal of the Swedish model so that it once again serves the interests of all of the working class.
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator
Gig economy news round-up
- GREEK RIDERS PROTEST OVER WORK INJURIES AND DEATHS: The E-food riders union S.V.E.O.D protested outside the Ministry of Labour on Wednesday [17 August] to demand action on the rising number of their riders who are dying or being seriously injured in road accidents. In a statement, the union said that the accidents often happen near the end of long shifts, that injuries to the head are most common despite the helmets they are provided with (which leaves the face uncovered), and that riding is made much more stressful due to the bleeping of the E-food app which is "non-stop" and "in the same way as the countdown of a time bomb". The union's demands to the Ministry of Labour include a formal inspection of E-Food to check safety and unpaid labour time and Hazardous Occupation insurance for all riders. E-Food is Greece's largest food delivery company and is owned by German multinational Delivery Hero. You can read the statement in full here.
- ADCU UNION SAY UBER UK PAY RISE IS A "SHAM": The App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) has slammed Uber's announcement of a pay rise for drivers in the UK as a "shell game scam". Uber announced on Tuesday [16 August] that it would be raising pay at different rates in different UK cities, with London drivers receiving a 5% uplift. But ADCU say that it's impossible to tell whether pay is really going up because the algorithm used to formulate pay varies so much now from ride to ride, leaving drivers "almost completely in the dark". The union believes this lack of transparency is in violation of the Employment Rights Act. ADCU also argues that there is now a massive variation in pay in different parts of the UK, with drivers in Brighton paid £1.45 per mile on average while drivers in Manchester have an average pay of just 75p per mile. With fuel inflation at 44%, Yaseen Aslam, President of the ADCU, said the pay offer was "a slap in the face" for drivers. Read more here.
- JUST EAT SELLS ITS STAKE IN LATIN AMERICAN PLATFORM IFOOD: Just Eat, Europe's largest food delivery platform, has sought to improve its balance sheet by selling its stake in the Latin American food delivery platform IFood for $1.8 billion to Prosus, which now has full ownership of the company. The sale of its 33% stake was rejected last year on the basis that a $2.3 billion offer was deemed to be insufficient, but over the past year JustEat has seen its share price fall by two-thirds as food delivery companies struggle in the new macroeconomic climate, and has now had to accept a reduced valuation under pressure from shareholders. Just Eat confirmed the money would go towards strengthening its balance sheet and paying debt. Its share price jumped 29% on Friday in response to the sale. Just Eat is also looking to sell GrubHub, the US food delivery platform which it only purchased last year. Read more here.
- KAVALL ENDS ITS OPERATIONS IN FINLAND: Swedish ultra-fast grocery delivery start-up Kavall has announced that it is pulling out of the Finnish market, in a bid to make savings. Kavall launched in 2021 promising deliveries in under 10 minutes, attracting over €20 million from major investors. It expanded from Stockholm Gothenburg and Malmö in Sweden to Norway and Finland. Like other ultra-fast grocery delivery companies such as Gorillas and Getir, it has not been able to maintain demand in the inflation crisis, and announced 20% cuts in the Swedish and Norwegian operations, with 15 staff being made unemployed, while all the Finnish operations, which are in the cities of Helsinki and Tampere, have been stopped "for an indefinite period of time," the company said, adding: "The employees affected by these changes have been notified." Read more here.
- IWGB CONDEMNS TRANSPORT FOR LONDON'S "DISCRIMINATORY" LANGUAGE TESTS: Private hire drivers in the IWGB union have condemned a change to the language tests Transport for London (TfL) requires for private hire drivers to get a license in the city. In 2021 the rules were made more stringent, requiring drivers to complete two £36 tests, with just one opportunity to re-sit. Those costs come on top of other license costs, which TfL estimates to be £477. Nader Awaad, Uber driver and Chair of the IWGB's United Private Hire Driver's branch, said: “Many of us private hire drivers have driven for years without any problems or complaints, satisfying customers and helping to keep London’s economy going. This change in policy disproportionately affects migrant workers, and will see thousands of drivers burdened with extra costs and worries, to the disadvantage of both workers and customers alike.” A petition has been launched calling on London mayor Sadiq Khan to address the problem. Read more here.
- ALMOST HALF OF YOUNG SWEDES WON'T USE GIG SERVICES BECAUSE OF BAD WORKING CONDITIONS: A poll of young people in Sweden has found that almost half refuse to use gig services like private hire drivers and food delivery because they the working conditions in the gig economy are too bad. The poll, by P3 Nyheter and Novus, also found that one in four young Swedes do buy services from the gig economy. Sweden has not regulated for employment classification in the gig economy as yet, and is the only EU member-state to object to the Platform Work Directive which, if passed, would see gig workers presumed to be employees. "There are several companies that deliberately choose not to take on an employer's responsibility," Cerin Celik, investigator at the transport trade union in Sweden, said.