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A remarkable march of over 500 fired Uber Eats riders organised by CLAP (Collectif des Livreurs Autonomes de Plateformes) was held on Monday [12 September] in Paris. 2,500 workers deactivated from the app without notice over the past two months were all undocumented workers. Morgan Meaker has written a superb report on the demonstration and the background to it in 'Wired' here

What is clear from Meaker's report is that Uber Eats has operated a "pump and dump" strategy towards undocumented riders. First, they invited migrants, especially those with Italian identity cards, to register on the app in France from 2018 all the way through the worst of the pandemic when demand was high, and then when growth slowed in the inflation crisis, those same Italian identity cards have been used as the basis to deactivate migrants, as the IDs only permit work in Italy. 

Uber Eats says the de-activations were the outcome of a "thorough audit", which found that 4% of its couriers in France had false documents or were linked to the creation of multiple accounts. Unsurprisingly, the company refused to comment on the timing of the crackdown, but Assimi Adolaji, who's account was de-activated permanently on 23 August after two years, 11,475 deliveries and a 97% rating, certainly had questions about it. He applied in 2020 using someone else's documentation because he didn't have the papers to work in France, and was quickly approved. Bassekou Cissoko had a similar story, working a ridiculous 98 hours a week on the platform since 2019. 

“During Covid, when everyone was in lockdown to protect themselves from the disease, we gave our lives to Uber and the clients,” he told Wired.

Another excellent report in French news site InfoMigrants by Charlotte Oberti reveals the human impact of this mass deactivation. Adama Ouattara says he has become a beggar after being deactivated, while Aboubacar Cissé sent €300 to his half-sister in Ivory Coast every month but can no longer do so since his account was blocked. Oberti finds all of those she speaks to have "strangely similar backgrounds".

"All, or almost, are survivors of the Sahara desert, of Libya, of the Mediterranean," she says. "They passed through Italy before reaching France, which did not grant them asylum. They knew the street for a few nights, near Porte de la Chapelle, in the north of Paris. In France, they have tried construction, a lax sector on the employment of undocumented migrants, but no longer want that - "too physical", "too hard, especially at the top of the scaffolding". They ended up rushing into this breach left gaping by Uber Eats."

Of course, as CLAP have pointed out on Twitter, many undocumented migrants will now find a route into the app through sub-renting, where an account holder lets them use the app in return for a cut of the earnings, which is typical in Spain, with the 'rent' being as high as 50% of the income. Uber Eats may have closed one door into their app while leaving open an even more exploitative one.

What can be done? Meaker reports that the Parisian protestors and unions are calling for gig work to be included within the "regularisation" scheme, where undocumented migrants can be considered permanent residents if they can prove they've been in France for three years and have 24 payslips. Self-employed workers are not currently part of the scheme and, in any case, there are no payslips with Uber Eats. 

That would at least be a start, and if the fired workers can keep up the momentum after the protest on Monday, it could be within reach. More broadly, "regularisation" should be a key demand of the platform workers' movement across Europe, as the gig economy and migrant labour are intrinsically linked.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

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Gig economy news round-up

  • UBER COMPUTER SYSTEM HACKED: Uber said it was investigating after a hacker compromised its entire computer system, forcing the US ridehail giant to take systems offline. The hacker, who says he is 18 years-old, said he hacked Uber because the company has weak security. He has published images including internal financial data and confidential reports, and also said that he was motivated by a desire for Uber drivers to receive higher pay. He reportedly used social engineering to attain an employee's 'Slack' account, and from their accessed sensitive keycodes. One cybersecurity expert stated on LinkedIn that: “If you had your data in Uber, there’s a high chance so many people have access to it", while another stated the hack was a "complete compromise", meaning the hacker even had access to the company's vulnerability reports, and thus is able to identify Uber's security weak spots. Uber was hacked in 2016, and paid a ransom of $100,000 to delete stolen driver and rider account data. The hack only became public knowledge a year later. Read more here.
  • FORMER STUART DELIVERY EMPLOYEE ACCUSES THE COMPANY OF FRAUD: Samir Yalaoui, who worked on behalf of the food delivery platform Stuart Delivery from 2016 to 2021, has admitted he engaged in fraudulent activity, but claims it was all based on the orders of the company. Recruiting from the black market, frequently changing sub-contracting firms to avoid VAT, and non-payment of employee contributions are among the fraudulent activities the French company, which is ultimately owned by French state-owned La Poste, is accused of. 'AFP' has seen documentation which it says shows that the sub-contracting firms at the centre of the scandal are all under the control of Stuart Delivery which "controls the entire organisation of work, from the selection and training of couriers to their rating, including their equipment". Yalaoui says he was hired to recruit thousands of couriers in around 40 cities, generating €20 million in turnover for the firm, without ever declaring anything to the authorities. Couriers have confirmed to AFP that they were hired without a contract and paid without payslips. Stuart Delivery denies all the claims, saying Yalaoui was not a sub-contractor but in fact was a customer who used the app to give work to his employees, and that the company "declares all of the income generated by users". Stuart Delivery operates across Europe, and is a sub-contractor for Just Eat in the UK, where it has been at the centre of the longest gig economy strike in history in the North of England organised by the IWGB union. Read more here
  • PARTIES TAKE MADRID'S "AYUSO UBER LAW" TO COURT: A group of parties in Spain led by Podemos have claimed that the Community of Madrid's controversial law to regulate the 'VTC' (private hire) sector in the Spanish capital, pushed through by the right-wing President of the Community of Madrid Isabel Díaz Ayuso in June, is illegal because it represents a "very serious violation" of municipal authority and the power of city councils. Podemos, along with the deputies of ERC, Bildu, the CUP, Compromís, Más País and Junts per Catalunya, have achieved the necessary 50 signatures to take the Law, which they dub the "Ayuso Uber Law", to the Court of Guarantees. The Law, which opened up the Spanish capital to a substantial increase in the number of VTCs in the city, sparked anger from taxi drivers, who threw fake Uber bills with Ayuso's picture on them at the President of the regional administration.  "It is a law that violates municipal autonomy, skips legality and turns the Community of Madrid into an accomplice of a company that, as we have seen in the 'Uber files', declares itself fucking illegal as they declare in their own emails," said Rafa Mayoral, Podemos MP in the Spanish Congress responsible for transportation. Read more here.
  • SPANISH UNION CALLS FOR LABOUR INSPECTORATE TO "ACT FORCEFULLY" TO DEFEND RIDER'S LAW: The CCOO union in Spain issued a statement on Monday [12 October] demanding that the Spanish Government's Labour Inspectorate act "forcefully" and "quickly" in response to companies refusing to employ their food delivery couriers, despite a law being passed last year stating explicitly that they had to. Uber Eats joined Glovo last week in hiring riders as freelancers again, in a move which puts credibility of the so-called 'Rider's Law' into question, since these two companies are the largest in Spain's food delivery sector. "We demand that the Labor Inspectorate act forcefully and quickly against the actions of these companies, which do not comply with regulations that have been the result of a long collective struggle," the union stated. They aded that they would also like to see the Immigration Law reformed so that migrant delivery workers can have their situation regularised, as at the moment "they are forced to accept inhuman and abusive working conditions from companies that take advantage of their vulnerability". The Labour Inspectorate has said that investigations into illegal employment in the sector are ongoing. Read more here.
  • CABIFY LAUNCH CAMPAIGN AGAINST CATALAN MINISTER OVER VTC LAW: Cabify, a Spanish VTC (private hire) platform, has launched a publicity campaign to discredit the Catalan Minister of Transport, Raquel Sánchez, who the platform blames for the decline of the sector in the North-Eastern region. The Catalan Government passed a Decree Law in July that effectively limits VTCs to limousines and passenger vans, creating a clear dividing line between the role of the taxi and the VTC in Catalonia. The law was celebrated by taxi unions but was condemned by the platforms as a move which could put thousands of drivers out of work. The poster campaign is in Sánchez's home city of Gavá, where she was once mayor, and reads: "R. Sánchez, your Cabify is waiting for you in Madrid". The subtext below says: "Although you do not want your neighbours from Gavà to travel by VTC, don't worry: you can continue traveling through other cities". In a statement, the platform, which is the third largest in Spain behind Uber and Bolt, said "it has tried for months to open different channels of communication with the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda without response through official channels", claiming she has set aside "responsibility". Read more here.

Is our news round-up missing important developments in the gig economy in Europe? Contact [email protected] so we can improve our service.

In GEP this week

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"I feel abandoned in the jungle": A Belgian gig economy veteran's story of struggle

A veteran of the gig economy, Anuar Shabban has worked for multiple platforms in Brussels, including Deliveroo for the past six years. He tells the Gig Economy Project about the trials and tribulations of a precarious work life.

From around the web

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Why Germany continues to fail its migrant workers

Oguz Alyanak and Zeynep Karlidag look at the role of migrant workers in Germany's economic development, and the current struggle led by migrant workers at Gorillas in Berlin.

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Review: Too Smart - How Digital Capitalism is extracting data, controlling our lives, and taking over the world

Bram Visser reviews Jathan Sadowski's new book which challenges the idea that smarter is always better.

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Grave Work

An excerpt from Phil Jones' book on microwork, 'Work Without the Worker', in the Non-Profit Quarterly.

Upcoming events

- The 2022 Re-Shaping Work Conference will be held in Amsterdam on the 13-14 October. Read more here.

- On 25 October Uber whistleblower Mark McGann will give evidence to the European Parliament on Social Affairs

- Wage Indicator will host a webinar on 'Women in Gig Work' on 27 October. For details and to register, click here.

- A one-day symposium will be held at the University of Edinburgh on 31 October titled 'Re-imagining Platforms'. For details and to register, click here.

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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