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Make platform care work visible

Platform care work in Europe is a massively under-reported part of the gig economy, and it seems that it's under-researched as well. 

"Domestic care platforms in coordinated and mature market economies in Europe have as yet escaped the scrutiny of researchers," Valeria Pulignano, Claudia Mará, Milena Franke and Karol Muszynski state, in a new paper published earlier this week that adds academic rigour to analysis of platform care for the first time in Europe.

'Informal employment on domestic care platforms: a study on the individualisation of risk and unpaid labour in mature market contexts' looks at two platforms, 'Yoopies' and 'Top Help/Aide au Top', in Belgium and France. The full range of care services can be offered by workers on these platforms, 27 of whom were interviewed for this paper.

Belgium and France offer a useful point of comparison because the same platforms operate in two distinct regulatory environments. In Belgium, a voucher system exists whereby clients buy domestic services from state-accredited agencies, which employ the workers. The workers are covered by a national collective agreement. In France, there are also vouchers but it works through a system of 'private employment', with clients hiring care workers directly, who are then considered to be employed and covered by the 'Universal Service Job Voucher' (CESU) collective agreement which covers minimum pay, social protections, etc.

In both cases, the role of care platforms is to make the work more informal and thus undermines care workers' rights. In Belgium, the platforms operate in complete "disrespect of the Belgian sectoral regulation," allowing clients to hire care workers directly as if they were self-employed (the vast majority do not register as self-employed to avoid the big tax burden that would incur). In France, there is a tendency for clients on the platform, especially those seeking small, short-term tasks, not to register with CESU and thus avoid the higher prices which come with paying towards social security contributions etc. The platforms do nothing to prevent these black market client-worker relationships.

One of the main aspects of the care platforms which aids informality is that the platform does not control any part of the payment process, which is organised directly between the client and worker once they have 'matched'. This leads to "wage dumping", with workers often being paid below the statutory minimum wage. There are also more unpaid costs than in a conventional employment relationship as the worker has to invest time in searching for work and making their profile on the platform as attractive as possible. Other unpaid costs of platform care include being interviewed by clients, commuting time, transportation and cancellations.

By working outside of the formal system, care work health & safety regulations do not apply. This can be dangerous when an overwhelmingly female workforce is working in the private sphere of someone else's home. One particularly disturbing risk is "sexual-based scams", where a client hires them on false pretences. Workers also reported experiencing sexual harassment while working.

"Whereas national legislation provides assistance and support to harassed and abused workers, platform workers are individually responsible for coping with harassment or abusive clients and the associated sense of insecurity," the authors' write.

Finally, workers who are simply assigned to a client by an employer do not have to worry about ratings and reviews affecting their livelihood, but this is a major issue on care platforms. Workers reported that they feared challenging bad behaviour or refusing to do unpaid work in case they were given a bad rating. 

Care platforms argue that they are helping to make domestic work - notoriously exploitative - more transparent and accountable, but this paper finds that in important ways the opposite is the case for care workers: "In both countries, platform strategies hinging on the deployment of digital technologies make jobs more casual and without social protection, and pay unpredictable and unreported." 

The authors argue that governments in France and Belgium must focus on making sure jobs are good quality in the formal sector, to reduce the attraction for care workers to use these platforms. Secondly, "the lack of enforcement of existing regulations" has allowed the platforms to "carve out a share of the market" in France and Belgium. Governments must enforce the law - haven't we have heard that many times before in relation to digital labour platforms?

This paper is an important step forward in understanding platform care in Europe, a sector that has for far too long been invisible in the public debate and should be no more.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • STILL NO BREAKTHROUGH ON PLATFORM WORK DIRECTIVE: The Council of the EU has failed again to come to an agreement on its proposal for the Platform Work Directive. The Swedish presidency of the Council circulated its third proposal last weekend ahead of talks on Wednesday [24 May], but the limited changes failed to convince the blocking minority of member-states, led by Spain, which want a stronger presumption of employment in the text. It's likely that the lack of a breakthrough means that the baton will now be passed to the Spanish presidency of the Council, which takes over in July. The failure of the Swedish presidency to strike a deal comes after the Czech presidency, which finished its term at the end of December, had also narrowly missed out on securing a two-thirds majority. If the Directive is not signed-off before the European Parliament elections in 12 months time, the legislative process will have to start again. Read more here.
  • UBER CEO DARA KHOSROWSHAHI ADDRESSES FRENCH UBER FILES INQUIRY: The Uber Files inquiry in France heard from a series of high-profile figures on Thursday [25 May], headlined by Uber's CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Speaking about the Uber Files scandal for the first time since the revelations last July, Khosrowshahi said that Uber had moved from an "era of confrontation to an era of collaboration", adding that he was "not here to defend our past mistakes". The Uber Files exposed illegal practices at the company from 2013 to 2017 under former CEO Travis Kalinick, including how the company forced its way into the French market in 2015 and the role Emmanuel Macron, current President who was at the time an economy minister in Francois Hollande's government, played in advocating for the Californian ridehail giant. Khosrowshahi was also asked about the EU Platform Work Directive and claimed that Uber drivers "want to continue to be their own employer", adding that employment for platform workers could work in “theory, but not in reality”. French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne also addressed the Uber Files inquiry earlier in the day and backed the Uber CEO's position on the EU Directive, taking aim at the criteria proposed by the European Commission for the presumption of employment in the text by saying “it would run counter to the very objectives of the Directive”. The inquiry is expected to report on its findings in July. Read more here.
  • RIDERS PROTEST OUTSIDE DELIVEROO AGM: Food delivery couriers protested outside British food delivery platform Deliveroo's annual general meeting (AGM) on Wednesday in London. The IWGB union action outside the AGM was accompanied by interventions inside co-ordinated alongside the Share Action group. Joe Durbidge, an IWGB member and Deliveroo courier for four and a half years, told the PA news agency: “Conditions are deteriorating constantly but my fees have never gone up since I started. Nobody’s satisfied with the job. It’s crazy." Another rider, Carlos Gomes, who works for Deliveroo, Uber and Stuart, said: “It’s hard to make enough money. If you want more than £100, it’s 14 hours a day." Riders took aim at Deliveroo CEO Will Shu, who earned £625,000 in the past year, with chants of "Shame on Shu". The IWGB is currently pursuing a case in the Supreme Court for collective bargaining rights for Deliveroo couriers. Another IWGB Deliveroo rider in London, Shaf Hussain, posted a Twitter thread this week saying that after seven years he planned to stop riding due to the fall in pay at the platform and the damage the work was doing to his wellbeing. Read more here.
  • GETIR TALKS TO TAKEOVER FLINK END: Turkish grocery delivery platform Getir's attempt to eat up one of its last significant European competitors has failed, for the time being. German-founded platform Flink, which also operates in France and the Netherlands, walked away from takeover negotiations after receiving €150 million in new funding from existing investors, including €50 million from German supermarket Rewe and €30 million from US food delivery platform DoorDash (which owns Wolt in Europe). The new funding places a €1 billion valuation on the Berlin-headquartered firm, which was previously valued as high as €3 billion. Emirati state-owned investment firm Mubadala, which has a stake in Flink and Getir, reportedly remains interested in a takeover, but talks are over for now. Getir bought Gorillas in December, a move that secured its place as the predominant 'Q-commerce' platform in Europe. Read more here.
  • LIEFERANDO COURIERS STRIKE IN DRESDEN, GERMANY: In the fourth Lieferando (Just Eat) strike in as many weeks in Germany, members of the NGG union in Dresden took industrial action on Thursday [25 May] evening, from 5pm to 9pm. 100 couriers and supporters demonstrated through the city under the slogan "Deliver at the limit". The couriers, who are employees, want their hourly wage raised to a guaranteed €15. "We earn minimum wage and Lieferando tries to calculate that with tricks. People are angry," said Alexander Kentop, a Lieferando courier. The union, which claimed that a member of the Work's Council was illegally denied entry to the premises on Thursday, said Lieferando's operations were paralysed by the strike, a claim the company denied. Lieferando spokesman Oliver Kluge said: "Around 30 drivers took part in the strike - just as many worked during the affected shift." NGG say if the company does not respond to their demands more strikes will be called. Read more here.
Co-op Cycle – Uberisation and presumption of employment: the government challenges its own coherence

Co-op Cycle s a federation of bike delivery co-operatives with 60 affiliated co-op’s in Europe. In this open letter, they criticise the French Government’s approach towards Uberisation and argue for strong employment rights for platform workers across Europe.

Vous pouvez lire la lettre ouverte en français ici
From around the web
The political battle for the 'riders' of Glovo: the parties face each other for the interests of a group that goes beyond the 'delivery'

Miríam Perez and Lucas G. Alcalde write in Business Insider Spain on the politicisation of food delivery (in Spanish).
Platform couriers' self-exploitation: The case study of Glovo

Paper by Tiago Viera, Phd student at the European University Institute, which "highlights the ways in which precarity, entrepreneurial subjectivity, and gamification intersect to create what are referred to as postdisciplinary control mechanisms".

Upcoming events

- A mobilisation of Uber drivers across five European countries - the UK, Netherlands, Brussels, Switzerland and France - to demand better working conditions for drivers will take place on Tuesday 30 May. Click here for details.

- A 'tech for good' festival, an alternative conference to London Tech Week, hosted by Outlandish and Space4 will take place in London on Friday 16 June. It will including sessions on 'def-EAT-ing the gig economy' and 'Platform capitalism? What about platform socialism?'. Click here for full details and to register.

- 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.

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