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What Mark MacGann revealed

The testimony of Mark MacGann, Uber's former chief lobbyist turned whistleblower, to the European Parliament on Tuesday contained blow after blow against not just Uber, not just the platforms in general, but also European politics, which has allowed lobbyists enormous influence in capital cities across Europe, and of course within the EU itself. The Gig Economy Project has published MacGann's full statement here.

The platforms' constant claim that flexibility is the be all and end all for drivers was "dishonest with governments", "misleading with investors" and "cruel to the millions of women and men on whose backs their businesses were built," he said. MacGann implied that most people at Uber really know that drivers should be considered employees, but that "San Francisco" insisted that something which "walked like a duck and quacked like a duck" was in fact "a hamster!"

"Uber didn’t create a new type of worker as much as find new ways to avoid the costs and responsibilities that employers have towards their workforce," MacGann said, in words that could have been spoken by almost any trade union leader in recent years. 

In response to questions, MacGann also exposed the gaping holes in the EU's system for 'lobbying transparency', as he said he routinely hired lawyers and investment bankers to go and lobby on Uber's behalf. Neither of these groups of workers have to be included on the Transparency Register. A report on platforms' lobbying influence in Brussels published on Monday, which GEP reported on here, has an official figure of €700,000+ for Uber's lobbying, a number which MacGann said was “peanuts compared to what they actually spend today, I’m pretty sure.”

We could go on and on, but you get the picture: it just takes one insider-turned-outsider to reveal that what the lobbyists and those who are supposed to regulate the lobbyists tell us has little to do with the truth. And, as one MEP questioning MacGann said, one gets the feeling that he could be revealing a whole lot more. MacGann implied that he wasn't because he didn't want to get hit by a big defamation lawsuit from Uber. 

MEPs gave MacGann two standing ovations and there was a general atmosphere of fawning over the former lobbyist. European Commissioner for jobs and social rights, Nicolas Schmit, also speaking on the same panel, said that it was "a very important meeting for how democracy is functioning” and that MacGann “described the reality of the work of many, many, many platform workers”. But don't let any of this fool you. The EU institutions have got appearing as the guardians of democracy and transparency in high-profile public fora down to a fine art; it has little to do with the reality of how power works in Brussels, and there's zero guarantees that this will make any difference to the outcome of the Platform Work Directive, which - as we reported here two weeks ago - is currently in retreat in both the EU Council and the EU Parliament. Despite what everyone now knows, the platform lobby is still winning. As Piero Valmassoi writes on the Gig Economy Project, McGann's testimony "will not mean much if the the Directive on Platform Work does not deliver for the current and future working conditions of millions of people in Europe". 

But one thing we can be sure of is that MacGann's testimony has added to the charge sheet against Uber, the platforms, the corporate lobbyists and the EU. If the EU Council and EU Parliament want to add to that further by passing a bad Platform Work Directive despite everything, it will only reinforce in many people's minds that in Brussels, the corporate lobby is so powerful that even when it loses the argument it still wins.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • NUMBER OF SPANISH RIDERS WITH EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS DOUBLES: New figures show that the Spanish Government's Rider's Law has coincided with a significant rise in employment contracts in the food delivery sector, despite resistance to the law from the two largest platforms operating in Spain. The figures, the main result of a report prepared by the Esade Technological Humanism Forum, show there were 5,464 employed riders in May 2021, and that had risen to 10,980 in August 2022. The Rider's Law came into force in August 2021. Also, 97.78% of these contracts in 2022 were indefinite (rather than temporary), compared to 73.42% last year, an impact of wider labour reforms in Spain introduced at the start of 2022, as well as the collective agreement signed between Just Eat (the third biggest platform in Spain) and Spanish unions CCOO and UGT. The new law has also increased state funds through social security contributions, which the report estimates at over €4.7 million. However, these figures do not account for a potential fall in employment contracts since Uber Eats changed its policy in September to begin to offer work to riders as independent contractors again. Glovo, the largest platform in Spain, continues to hire riders on an independent contractor basis in defiance of the law. Read more here.
  • NEW EUROPEAN COMMISSION GUIDELINES FOR SELF-EMPLOYED TO COLLECTIVELY BARGAIN: The European Commission announced this week a new set of guidelines which could see riders and drivers who are operating as independent contractors still able to organise collectively in unions. The guidelines aim to clarify the law after a number of controversial legal cases which found that collective bargaining by the self-employed was a breach of EU competition laws. The new guidelines clarifies that "competition law does not apply to solo self-employed people that are in a situation comparable to workers" and that they will "not enforce EU competition rules against collective agreements made by solo self-employed people who are in a weak negotiating position". The Commission said it will monitor the impact of these changed guidelines at the national level and review by 2030 at the latest. Read more here.
  • CCOO UNION MAKES REQUEST TO GLOVO FOR ACCESS TO ITS ALGORITHM: Spanish union CCOO has formally submitted a request to Spanish food delivery platform Glovo for access to its algorithm. As part of the 'Rider's Law' in Spain last year, it was included that "workers’ legal representation will have to be informed of the rules that algorithms and artificial intelligence systems may have an impact on the working conditions governing the platforms, including access to and maintenance of employment and profiling". However, there had been no progress on making this part of the law of practical use to unions until now. The Glovo Groceries Company Committee, which is made up of 10 delegates from CCOO and 3 from UGT, sent the request into Glovo, and must receive a response within a maximum of 15 days. The union will also be pursuing similar requests with other food delivery companies in the sector, and is providing a template form for union members to use to make such requests. The union added that "he purpose of the request goes far beyond obtaining a simple computer code, since the importance of accessing this information lies in what it will serve for the company to justify according to which criteria the algorithm that is used to make decisions that affect working people, as required by regulations." Read more here.
  • GOPUFF MANAGEMENT ADMIT MISTAKE IN TRYING TO GROW TOO FAST IN EUROPE: GoPuff, the US grocery delivery company, has admitted that it got it wrong in its European strategy, as the company seeks to survive the downward spiral facing 'Q-Commerce' internationally. GoPuff exited the Spanish and French markets in August just a year after setting-up, and now only has a European presence in the UK. Rafael Ilishayev, GoPuff's co-founder and co-CEO, told Bloomberg in a wide-ranging interview that the company should have achieved success in one European country first before moving to others, but that “If the market kept going the way it was going, it wouldn’t have mattered.” The company had bought two European grocery delivery start-up's during its rapid expansion phase, Dija and Fancy, and a former Dija executive told Bloomberg that the European employees were not impressed by their strategy for Europe, which seemed to have no interest in the differences between European and American dynamics, for example going to local shops was a more important part of European culture. “What Gopuff saw from Philly was just landmass to have our flag there. It did not seem economical,” the executive said, adding that integrating GoPuff's operations with that of Dija and Fancy was "a ridiculous nightmare". The company has laid off almost 2,000 employees internationally and closed 76 US warehouses in recent months, as it battles reduced investor interest and the cost of living crisis. Read more here
  • BRADFORD JUST EAT COURIERS STRIKE: Just Eat food delivery couriers in the English city of Bradford went on another day of strike action on Thursday [27 October] to demand higher pay. The strike followed action from 21-23 October which forced some restaurants to stop taking orders via the Just Eat app. One of the striking couriers, Tariq Khan, said: "Deliveries have gone up, but what's happening is that they're paying drivers less but getting them to do more work. For example, a one-mile delivery fast food couriers [previously] got £5 and they're now receiving a mere £3.80 per delivery." Khan added that they are targeting McDonald's restaurants in both Bradford and Leeds as part of the industrial action, and that they are considering further action because "if we don't make a stand nothing is going to change". Just Eat said they take concerns from couriers "seriously" but that they provide "a highly competitive base rate to self-employed couriers". Read more here

On GEP this week

The platform lobby in Brussels: 5 things you need to know

A new study takes an in-depth look at the platform lobby in Brussels in wake of the Uber Files scandal, finding they are more deeply entrenched than ever.
Uber whistleblower Mark MacGann’s full statement to the European Parliament

The full statement of ‘Uber Files’ whistleblower Mark MacGann to the Employment and Social Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, on 25 October.
Piero Valmassoi: MacGann’s testimony stung Uber, but will it make any difference?

Piero reports from the European Parliament on Uber whistleblower Mark MacGann’s hearing, finding that his revelations will not count for much if the platform lobby continues to win the legislative battle.
From around the web
Spain is serious about stopping bogus self-employment

Eoghan Gilmartin writes in 'Tribune' on the battle for employment rights for food delivery couriers in Spain.
Uber's shadow looms over platform workers directive debates

Ludovic Voet, European Trade Union Confederation General Secretary, makes the case for a strengthened Platform Work Directive.
The IWGB and strategic litigation: using the law within the strategies and tactics of work organising

Alex Marshall and Jamie Woodcock outline the IWGB union in the UK's approach to litigation in the Institute of Employment Rights.

Upcoming events

- 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

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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 workers' rights in the gig economy.

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Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at or send a direct message to the Twitter: @project_gig.

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