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Opening the black box

In a major court victory this week for platform workers' data rights, Uber and Ola cabs were ordered by the Court of Appeals in Amsterdam to provide information to workers on automated decision-making, in a case brought forward by Worker Info Exchange.

The first case related to the robo-firing of four Uber drivers, who were accused of "fraudulent activity". The court rejected Uber's argument that disclosure of the data used to inform the fraud allegation would expose trade secrets and undermine the platform's security, and thus the workers were wrongfully denied the information which they had requested using GDPR. 

The second and third cases related to accessing the personal data of drivers at Uber and Ola. The court found that the platforms must provide information on how profiling and personal data is used in Uber's system of work allocation and of setting pay rates, which is known as 'dynamic pricing'. 

The court found that dynamic pricing "taken as a whole, affects the drivers to a considerable extent. This system is applied to every passenger they carry. These are therefore successive decisions, each with financial consequences that determine the income they can earn.” 

Commenting on the ruling, James Farrar, director of Worker Info Exchange, said that "the information asymmetry and trade secrets protections relied upon by gig economy employers to exploit workers and deny them even the most basic employment rights for fundamentals like pay, work allocation and unfair dismissals must now come to an end as a result of this ruling."

You can read the ruling in English here. There are many potential consequences of this verdict, not least that - as Farrar suggests - the evidence that Uber and Ola conduct performance profiling on drivers strongly indicates that the drivers are indeed subordinate to the platforms, and thus should be employed. The ruling also makes the case for legislation to strengthen workers ability to access their data rights, though Worker Info Exchange described the victory as "bittersweet" because in the UK the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, about to go through its second reading in the parliament, will strip away GDPR rights to automated decision-making and personal data.

For the remainder of this post, we will focus on the potential consequences of the dynamic pricing aspect of the court verdict. The Gig Economy Project published a piece this week about the outbreak of strikes at Finnish food delivery platform Wolt in eight European countries this year, including four strikes over the past week. An instigator of those strikes in many of the countries has been the roll-out of dynamic pricing.

GEP has seen the amendment to Wolt's contract for its 'Courier Partner's' in Finland, which came into effect in January and was quickly followed by strikes. The amendment states clearly that the new payment system will be based on various data inputs which "includes, for example, distance, weather conditions, the size of delivery, the location of the merchant and the time of day”. Note the word "for example": the contract could include any number of other data inputs, including the personal data history of each rider.

The contract also explicitly states that the previous fee structure, which made it clear to riders how much they would be paid for each kilometre travelled 'as the crow flies', would now be redundant. Riders are therefore left in the dark about the logic behind their pay rates per delivery. Also, the contract states clearly - in direct contradiction with the Amsterdam ruling - “[the] Courier Partner will not be notified about the specific parameters and/or the changes in the parameters affecting the fee offered”. In otherwords, 'the blackbox is closed'. 

Riders in all eight countries where strikes have taken place report sharply falling pay, sometimes over 20% lower. Not only are they in the dark about the pay rates they are being offered under dynamic pricing, they are substantially poorer as well. Asked about the strikes by GEP, a Wolt spokesperson admitted that "some courier partners are dissatisfied with the changes" and said "we could have communicated about this better", but refused to say whether they would make any changes to the new payment system in response to the strikewave.

What the Amsterdam court ruling makes clear is that riders and drivers in the gig economy should not be in the dark about how their pay is calculated, that their right to know this information is know more or less a right than the many others which most of us take for granted every day. Now comes the really difficult part - trying to exercise that right in practise.

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

  • BILL ON ALGORITHMIC MANAGEMENT PRESENTED TO FRENCH SENATE: Pascal Salvodelli, Communist Party member of France's Senate, presented a bill on algorithmic management on Wednesday [5 April]. The bill proposes a legal definition of the algorithms as an organisation of power and control and a legal requirement for algorithmic instructions to be made publicly transparent. Salvodelli believes the bill could serve as "a lever" when it comes to "bringing the European directive on platform workers into French law". The bill was backed by Ben Ali Brahim, General Secretary of the INV union which organises Uber drivers in France, and sociologist Antonio Casilli, who both spoke at the launch of the bill. Ali Brahim told the event that a lawyer for Uber had recently said to him that "allowing a right to inspect the algorithm would be like asking for the recipe for Coca-Cola". Read more here
  • UK: JUST EAT COURIERS IN BURY GO ON STRIKE: Couriers in the north-west English town of Bury have gone on strike over pay cuts at Just Eat. Around 50 couriers took part in the action which took place over 31 March and 1 April. Pickets were held outside McDonald's branches. The riders say their pay has dropped 40pc since last year, with the most recent pay cut being the second in the space of a year. "It feels like we are driving for nothing," Peter Collinge, one of the striking workers, said. "With the cost of fuel going up, it's really bad on us. It barely even covers the cost of your fuel and expenses." Just Eat made headlines two weeks ago when it announced it would be axing its employee model in the UK, but the Bury riders have always been on self-employed contracts. Just Eat said they take concerns of Just Eat riders "seriously". Read more here.
  • SWITZERLAND: UBER PAYS 14.5 MILLION SWISS FRANCS TO DRIVERS: Uber has compensated a third of its Swiss drivers for back-dated pay, as part of an agreement which allowed the company's 2019 ban to be lifted. The pay-out was Uber's first collective compensation in Switzerland, but more is due as only 627 drivers were paid out of a total of 1800, plus the average pay-out was equivalent to just over 2,000 Swiss Francs per year, a figure the SIT union described as "derisory". The 14.5 million is short of the 35.4 million Uber had agreed to pay last November, but there is no deadline for the second installment. The total to be paid out is further complicated by the fact that a number of drivers are taking the issue to an industrial tribunal, after working with data scientist Paul-Olivier Dehaye and his Digipower Academy team team to come to an independent assessment of the amount they are owed which exceeds what Uber was willing to offer. Read more here.
  • GETIR'S MARKET ENTRY IN SPAIN HAS SO FAR COST THE FIRM €76 MILLION: An analysis of grocery delivery platform Getir's entry into the Spanish market has found that the company has so far subsided its presence in the Southern European country to the tune of €76 million. Getir, a Turkish firm which has become the dominant player in app-based grocery delivery in Europe, entered Spain in 2021 and quickly established itself in six cities. The 'Metropoli' analysis finds that the host company provided a loan to Getir Spain of €51.6 million which has been converted into shares, a second convertible loan of €14.5 million and €10 million as a "partner contribution". Despite the €76 million investment, Getir Spain still made a loss of €21.7 million in its first year, with 428,000 orders made at an average of 1.5 bags per order. The Metropoli piece also reveals that Getir is owned by a holding company called Huvi Technologies, which is based in the US state of Delaware, a well-known tax haven. Read more here.
  • UBER ADDS TO BRUSSELS LOBBYING TEAM: Uber has hired a new Brussels policy team lead, Leah Charpentier, who replaces Zuzana Púčiková, Politco reports. Charpentier moves from First Solar, a US-based solar panel manufacturer, which Politico suggests fits with Uber's attempt to "tout itself as a partner for more sustainable cities". Additionally, the US ridehail giant has bulked up its Brussels team by adding a policy communications chief, Paolo Ganino, who was previously Twitter's comms head in the EU capital. Previously, Uber had ran all of its EU policy comms from London, but perhaps are looking to strengthen its team as the EU Platform Work Directive reaches crunch point. Leïla Chaibi MEP, who leads the work of the Left in the European Parliament on the platform economy, tweeted: "Dear Madame Charpentier, you will find me in your way". Read more here.

On GEP this week

#ReWolt: Why are Wolt strikes spreading across Europe

Strikes at Wolt have taken place in at least eight European countries since the start of the year, with four occuring in the past week. Why are the riders taking action now? The Gig Economy Project takes a look.
Organising from the bottom-up: Inside Brussels’ House of Couriers

The House of Couriers opened in December to aid rider-organising in the Belgian capital. The Gig Economy Project went to the House of Couriers to speak to two of its main organisers to find out more.
Christopher Leach – Worker resistance and the gig economy: lessons from the Sheffield courier strike

For eight months, platform workers in Sheffield organised the longest strike in the history of the gig economy. History and Politics student Christopher Leach spoke to striking platform workers about it. (Cross-posted from the SPERI blog.)
From around the web
Mahmood celebrates the wrong entrpreneurship

Gigwatch's Jacob Lundberg in Sweden reviews new book 'One of Them' by management consultant Qaisar Mahmood, who writes about his experience riding for Foodora.
China: Revised labour rules sought as gig work rises

China Daily reports on official jobs statistics which show that the gig economy is growing quickly in the East-Asian country, leading to a debate about employment rights.
India's gig economy increased 13 times compared to pre-pandemic levels: Report

Another report on the sharp growth in the gig economy, this time in India.

Upcoming events

- The research project 'Don't Gig Up, Never!' is hosting a webinar on "Labour platforms: role and challenges for National Labour Inspectorates and the European Labour Authority" with speakers from several labour inspectorates on 18 April, 3-4.30pm CET. Click here for more details and to register.

- Resolution Foundation and Fairwork are hosting a joint event on 'How to build a fair digital labour platform' on 20 April, 10-1pm BST in London. Click here to for more 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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Off next week

There will be no weekly newsletter next Sunday, as we are taking some Easter down time. We'll be back on 23 April.
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