Gig economy news & analysis
 ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌  ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ 
Website | Twitter | | Subscribe

From bogus bogus sub-contractor employment?

The latest development in the saga of the EU Platform Work Directive is that Sweden, which holds the presidency of the EU Council, has sent round a new draft with minimal changes from the previous one, which failed to deliver a two-thirds majority in March. There are mixed messages about whether this new draft is the basis for a deal on the EU Council, with Euractiv on the one hand quoting a source saying that a "June deal is totally within reach" and that the "conversation has shifted to semantics", and on the other hand quoting a diplomatic source saying "we are not there yet” and that there has been "very limited progress” on the presumption of employment part of the text. A technical meeting will take place on Monday [24 April] to discuss the new text.

What we are going to hone in on this week is the part of the EU Council text relating to sub-contracting. According to Euractiv, the new text states in the introduction that there should be a “clear obligation" to keep intermediary companies within the scope of the Directive. The European Commission's initial draft had not dealt with the question of sub-contracting, while the European Parliament's text states that when platform workers are hired via sub-contractors, there must be "joint and several liability", meaning both the platform and the sub-contractor are responsible for ensuring that the platform worker can access all of the rights they are entitled to in the Directive.

While we do not know what the EU Council's "clear obligation" to keep sub-contractors within the Directive means, we do know that during the Czech Republic's Presidency of the EU Council (which ended in December), their proposal included text which made sub-contractors the sole liable employer, not the platform. This had been pushed for by the Croatian Government, which had passed a law to that effect in Croatia in December, the first country in the EU to do so. It is due to come into effect in January 2024.

This week, the Gig Economy Project interviewed Sunčica Brnardić, Executive Secretary for Labour and Social Law at the Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (SSSH/UATUC), about the Croatian law, the role of sub-contractors in the Croatian platform economy, and it's relevance to the EU Directive. You can listen to or read the interview here

Brnardić explains that in Croatia, 80% of platform workers are employed by sub-contractors, or what is known in the country as 'aggregators'. The aggregators were the creation of Uber, as when the Californian company entered the Croatian economy around a decade ago, the country's stringent rules on self-employment meant they needed a plan B to attract workers into the sector, and the aggregators, made more appealing due to the country's lax laws on setting-up limited liability companies. 

The result has been a wild west of highly exploitative firms, which charge riders and drivers a fee of around 10% of their wages, for doing nothing more than organising a labour contract and tax contributions. The aggregators are known for workers' rights abuses, including not paying wages, paying cash-in-hand, no sick pay or holiday leave, and of course they don't provide any equipment or training. They have been known to close themselves down before having to pay tax, before re-launching under a new name again, often leaving workers unpaid. 

The Croatian law could be seen as a necessary cleaning up of the aggregators. They will no longer be able to extract a fee from the workers, and platforms have to monitor the aggregators to ensure they are meeting their obligations to the workers. However, there will be no joint liability for workers' rights between the platform and the sub-contractor, as long as the platforms' can prove to the government that the aggregators are doing what they legally have to. "A paper collection exercise," says Brnardić, who lobbied the Croatian government, first to take the aggregators out of the system entirely, and - after realising that fight was lost - secondly to ensure there is joint liability, based on the precedent of existing EU law for postal workers. 

Brnardić is of the view that that the aggregators cannot possibly be considered the real employers of the platform workers, since they neither pay the wages nor control the work process. The aggregators are so hated by the workers - which have re-named them "the alligators" - that in a recent Wolt strike in Croatia the initial demands of the workers included to be self-employed, rather than aggregator-controlled. Yet with Croatia's new law, the government have just given these companies an official seal of approval. No wonder the platforms operating in Croatia - Bolt, Uber, Wolt and Glovo - are all satisfied with the law. 

Sub-contracting is not just relevant in Croatia. In Germany, Spain and indeed anywhere where the platforms have not been able to uniformly impose bogus self-employment, sub-contractors tend to be their chosen solution. By fragmenting the workforce across lots of small companies, it becomes very difficult for workers, unions, regulators and the media to hold these companies to account. And the platforms get to wash their hands of the problem, directing all complaints to the sub-contractors. Brnardić believes sub-contracting is the platforms' "back up strategy" for the EU Directive, if they cannot get the presumption of employment out of the final text. She might be right.

What should be obvious is that the real employer of platform workers is the company which controls the algorithm. It is the algorithm which tells the worker the pay-per-task, where to collect the food, where to deliver it, what route to take, de-activates the account, etc etc. The algorithms of Uber and co are management instructions, nothing else. Given that, even the European Parliament text is too soft - sub-contractors should not be considered employers in the platform economy at all. How can a platform worker access the algorithmic rights proposed in the Directive if their employer is the sub-contractor, which doesn't have access to the algorithm? It makes no sense.

But the Parliament's proposal for joint liability is better than the sub-contractors having sole liability, which would be a farce: bogus self-employment would be brought to an end and replaced by...bogus sub-contractor employment. Is that really progress?

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

GEP needs funding

BRAVE NEW EUROPE's yearly crowdfunding pays for the Gig Economy Project's website presence, but staff costs and other expenses are all paid for through grant funds. Unfortunately, our last grant fund from the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust runs out at the end of May and we have not been successful in lining up new funding yet. If we cannot find any new funding, we will not be able to continue the project. That would be untimely as we feel it is just starting to build momentum. We are always looking for new grant funding opportunities, but we seem to fall between two stools: we are not investigative enough for investigative journalism grants, and we are too media orientated for activist funding. We are hoping our subscribers may have some ideas of where GEP could get new funding from. Even if you think it's a long shot, we would like to hear it. E-mail if anything comes to mind.

Gig Economy news round-up

  • FRENCH DELIVERY PLATFORMS AGREE TO A "MINIMUM INCOME GUARANTEE": All food delivery platforms will pay €11.75 "for each hour of activity by the delivery person", according to the French Government, which announced the agreement on Thursday [20 April], alongside an agreement on app de-activations. The agreements are the latest to emerge out of the controversial 'social dialogue' process, which the government arbitrates with the platforms on one side and worker representatives elected, in a process which very few gig workers participated in, on the other. In January, the platforms agreed to a €7.65 minimum payment per trip, but although the new payment - which is slightly above France's €11.27 minimum wage - is per hour, it does not include waiting time, and the riders still must pay the cost of all of their expenses, facts that have led to criticism of the agreement from CLAP, the Paris riders' collective, and Leïla Chaibi, France Insoumise MEP and campaigner for platform workers' rights. The agreement on account de-activations provides an obligation for human intervention in the process, to inform the delivery person of the de-activation, and "the establishment of procedures prior to de-activation". The agreements come as the French Government has pushef back against a presumption of employment in the EU Platform Work Directive, arguing that it would undermine its 'social dialogue' approach. Read more here.
  • DELIVERY WORKERS' UNION LAUNCHED IN SLOVENIA: A Slovenian union, Sindikata Mladi Plus, has established a specific delivery workers' section, known as the Delivery Workers' Union. Sinidikata Mladi Plus has been organising Wolt and Glovo couriers for some time, and the workers have decided to form their own organisation within the union due to "the worsening of their situation". Like in other countries, a change in the payment system at Wolt has seen wages fall by at least 20%. The Delivery Workers' Union (DWU) has contacted Wolt and Glovo's management to demand that they officially recognise the union as the riders representative and enter into collective negotiations. One courier for Wolt and Glovo, Janez, said: "All we want is to be heard and considered. That we, as workers, are recognised as partners in this process. To negotiate with us. And to improve the working conditions together". Read more here.
  • SPANISH SUPREME COURT RULES TAXI SECTOR CAN CHALLENGE INTRODUCTION OF NEW VTC LICENCES: The taxi sector's ability to intervene to limit the number of private hire platform vehicle (VTC) licences available in Spain has been boosted by a ruling of the Supreme Court, which found that taxi's can legally challenge the introduction of more licenses for any reason. It comes after the Community of Madrid refused to consider the Madrid Taxi Professional Federation's attempt to challenge the introduction of more VTC licences in Madrid, claiming that the union was not a legitimate interested party. The led the union to appeal to the High Court in Madrid, which rejected it, but the Federation was more successful with the Supreme Court. The ruling comes as the Supreme Court prepares to clarify its position on the 1 in 30 rule, which limits VTC licences to one for every 30 taxi licences. The Supreme Court is waiting for a ruling from the Court of Justice in the European Union before it gives its own verdict. Read more here.
  • LIEFERANDO COURIERS STRIKE IN FRANKFURT: Couriers at Lieferando (Just Eat) in the Food, Entertainment and Restaurants Union (NGG) in Frankfurt, Germany, took their first official strike action to demand a collective agreement including a guaranteed €15 an hour, a 13th monthly salary, bonuses for working evenings, Sundays and holiday shifts. In Germany, Just Eat's couriers are all employees. The 14 April action was the first of several planned strike days. "If the company continues to refuse to come to the negotiating table, the riders will escalate their protests," NGG department head Mark Baumeister said. "Lieferando has to deliver now.” Lieferando claimed that the vast majority of riders are satisfied with their terms and conditions. Read more here.
  • YANDEX BUYS-OUT UBER'S REMAINING STAKE IN RUSSIA: Uber's business in Russia has fully come to a close after it sold its remaining stake in private hire platform Yandex for $702.5 million. "As a result of the deal, Yandex will become the sole owner of the group, which includes a taxi ordering service, carsharing and scooter rental," Yandex said in a statement. In 2021 Uber sold its stake with Yandex in a foodtech and food delivery venture and reduced its stake in Yandex Taxi to 29%. New rules to prevent capital flight following the Ukraine war mean all sales require government approval and must ensure a 50% discount is given to the buyer follow independent evaluation. Yandex said it had received government approval for the deal. Read more here.

On GEP this week

‘The alligators’: How Croatia legitimised the role of sub-contractors in the platform economy – Interview w/ Sunčica Brnardić

What role do sub-contractors play in the platform economy? Can they really be considered employers? The Gig Economy Project spoke to trade unionist and labour law expert Sunčica Brnardić to explore the Croatian case, where sub-contractors are central to the platform economy and the government has just passed a law formally recognising their role. Interview available as a podcast or in written form.
Anna-Elisabeth Hampel, Eva Luise Krause: What our research reveals about platform work, and how it should be regulated

The ‘Equal opportunities in platform work’ (‘Chancengerechte Plattformarbeit’) project released two studies in February and March on the relationship between platform work and social exclusion/participation. The authors write for the Gig Economy Project summarising their findings, and what the next steps are for the project.
From around the web
Cooperatives of delivery people and drivers, an ethical alternative to digital platforms

A look at food delivery cooperatives in France, which have proliferated in recent years, in 'essentiel santé' magazine (in French).
Podcast - Delivery Change: Flink twice if you want to form a Works Council

In the second episode of the Delivery Change podcast, Aju John looks at the experience of Flink and Lieferando riders trying to establish a Works Council in Berlin.
'Stop or I'll fire you': the driver who defied Uber's automated HR

Heather Stewart interviews Alexandru Iftimie, an Uber driver in the UK and member of the App Drivers and Couriers Union, about his journey from a false fraud complaint to taking his data request all the way to the Amsterdam court, and winning..

Upcoming events

- Solidarity demonstration and rally at the Berlin Labour Court with Gorillas riders, who were fired on mass in October 2021 for their involvement in strike action and have filed unfair dismissal suits, on 25 April, 10am, Magdeburger Platz 1. Click here for full details. 

- The Platform Labor Project and the Global Digital Cultures Initiative are holding a hybrid international conference on 'Global Perspectives on platforms, labour and social re-production', at the University of Amsterdam, 27-28 June. Details here

Know of upcoming events we should be highlighting? Let us know at

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 workers' rights in the gig economy.

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 or send a direct message to the Twitter: @project_gig.

And if you like the Gig Economy Project weekly newsletter, why not get your friends and colleagues to subscribe?
Here's the link.
You received this email because you subscribed to our list. You can unsubscribe at any time.

BRAVE NEW EUROPE (Unincorporated Not-For-Profit Association)
68 Boileau Road
SW13 9BP
United Kingdom
Powered by EmailOctopus