The Gig Economy Project has spent an interesting week in Brussels. You can read our comprehensive report of the platform workers' General Assembly, Alternatives to Uberisation conference and the taxi drivers' Uber Files mobilisation here. In this newsletter, we will limit ourselves to a reflection on developments with the EU Platform Work Directive.
There is a sense that a concerted pushback is underway from the platform lobby. Documents revealed by Euractiv on Monday revealed a note from the French Secretariat General for European Affairs seeking a weakening of the criteria in the Directive which would determine whether a platform worker was an employee, so to "avoid risks to our legislation and platforms’ economic model". The fact that the French Government is resisting is no surprise, given President Emmanuel Macron's ideological commitment to the model of the platforms, but the document also revealed that France is hoping Sweden, which will become President of the EU Council in January 2023, will help them in slowing the legislation.
Leïla Chaibi MEP, who organised the Alternatives to Uberisation conference, told attendees that the platform lobby had "re-grouped", and that although "we’re going to get a directive on the presumption of employment", the danger is "a lot of people can imagine that they can strip it of any worth". Ludovic Voet from the European Trade Union Confederation argued that changes to the Directive were necessary in the other direction, as the current criteria for the presumption of employment were too slippery, meaning that it will “require a worker in court to win the case to trigger this employment, so the classification is still in the hands of the employer”. To strengthen the Directive, the main hope lies with the European Parliament, which must negotiate any amendments with the EU Council before the Directive becomes law, but even then it's not at all clear the centrist and centre-right forces which were necessary to win a majority for the presumption of employment in the Parliament last September would now be willing to press for a further tightening of the Commission's proposal.
One of the problems here is that the opaque process that legislation goes through in the EU means it is very hard for workers, or indeed the media, to hold anyone to account during the process, especially at the EU Council level, as no minutes are held of meetings. Unless - like the corporate lobby - you have the inside track, you are pressing your nose against the window almost until the decision has been made. What we do have at least is a rough timetable: EU Council negotiations in September-October, in November the EU Parliament will agree on a position, and on December 8th the EU Council will meet to agree its stance. The platform workers' General Assembly agreed to organise mobilisations in their respective countries the day before, on 7th December.
There appears to be a degree of frustration seeping into the platform workers' movement about the pace of change at the political and, especially, legal level, both at Brussels and in the national context. Without revealing too much about the discussions at the General Assembly (an event primarily for platform workers to talk frankly with one another, which GEP was kindly invited along to observe), there was some clear differences in perspective over how much value can be derived from laborious legal processes which, even when won, platforms can find ways to evade the consequences. The majority view seemed to be that platform workers must continue fighting on every front, however frustrating it may be.
What's absolutely certain is that building workplace power will strengthen the capacity of the movement to fight on any of these fronts, and allow them to act independently of governments and courts when necessary. Platform workers will need to draw on all the power they have to deal with double-digit inflation and platforms looking to displace costs onto workers whenever and wherever they can.
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator
Gig economy news round-up
- UBER EATS BEGIN USING FREELANCERS AGAIN IN SPAIN: Uber Eats officially began hiring workers on a self-employed basis in Spain again on Wednesday [7 September], in a move which would appear to be a direct contravention of Spain's 'Rider's Law', which created a presumption of employment for food delivery couriers. The Rider's Law came into force in August 2021, and Uber Eats initially responded to it by transferring all of its riders over to sub-contractors, where they were hired. However, the company warned Spain's Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, earlier this year that they would move back to freelancers if the government did not crackdown on Glovo, the largest food delivery platform in Spain, which has refused to employ its riders for the whole time the Rider's Law has been in force. Uber Eats claimed the disparity was putting them at a competitive disadvantage. The American tech giant announced in August, just before the first anniversary of the Rider's Law, that they would be making good on their threat, a move which puts the credibility of the law into doubt. Read more here.
- IWGB TO TAKE DELIVEROO TO SUPREME COURT OVER DENIAL OF COLLECTIVE BARGAINING RIGHTS: The IWGB union in the UK has announced that it is taking British-based food delivery platform Deliveroo to the Supreme Court over the company's refusal to enter into a collective bargaining arrangement with the union. Deliveroo signed a 'partnership' deal with the GMB union earlier this year, which the IWGB says is in contradiction with the company's official stance that riders are independent contractors and are therefore not entitled to any collective bargaining rights. The IWGB, which is sharply critical of the terms of Deliveroo's agreement with GMB, say that a victory at the Supreme Court "would mean that delivery couriers working for the company would be classified as workers" and that "it would pave the way for a future worker status claim". Read more here.
- FRANCE TO OUTLAW 'DARK STORES': French President Emmanuel Macron has said the government will decree that the mini-warehouses used by grocery delivery companies, commonly known as 'dark stores', will have to be classified as warehouses rather than shops. The change will mean that most of the dark stores, which are usually located in urban neighbourhoods in former shop fronts for speed of delivery, will be closed down, a potentially fatal blow to an already struggling business model. The change comes after Paris City Council combined with other city authorities to demand action from the government, after grocery delivery companies got round efforts at the municipal level to regulate them. Dark stores have provoked anger in communities due to noise pollution and congestion, as delivery drivers wait outside to take deliveries. "Once this decree is finalised, there will be no ambiguity," said Small Businesses Minister Olivia Grégoire. Read more here.
- FLINK WORKERS ELECT WORKS COUNCIL IN BERLIN: Workers at the food delivery platform Flink in Berlin elected their electoral board on Monday [5 September], establishing the first Works Council at the German grocery delivery company. Like with other delivery companies in Berlin, the process for Flink workers to establish the Works Council - a legal entity under German industrial relations law which gives workers official representation within the company - has been fraught, with claims of attempted 'union busting', including from the workers' lawyer, Martin Brechert, who said on Twitter that the "opposing lawyer" had sought to block the election at the last minute through "completely crazy" tactics. The Flink Works Council becomes the fourth in the city, after Gorillas, Dropp and Lieferando all established Works Councils in the German capital.
- LIEFERANDO ATTEMPT TO FIRE HALF OF THE WORKS COUNCIL IN BERLIN: Lieferando (Just Eat) have moved against riders in the Works Council in Berlin less than a month after it was established, with the company seeking the dismissal of around half of the official representatives under the auspices that they had logged thousands more hours of work in preparation for the election than they had actually done. The Works Council has denied the allegation, and claim it is an attempt to hinder its work. The process for the Works Council election lasted from November last year to August due to company attempts to block it in the courts. A courier on the Works Council told Fair Work: "By firing the works council members in Berlin, [Lieferando] is not only escalating its attacks against the unionising efforts of its couriers. It is taking an open and intentional disregard and abuse of the law". The courier claimed Lieferando's evidence was flimsy, including riders not answering the phone at specific times. The case will now go to a Labour Court. Read more here.
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