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Divided France: The government and the courts at odds over platform work

The big vote in the European Parliament this week on the Platform Work Directive was stopped by workers. A general strike in France over President Emmanuel Macron's latest attempt to raise the pension age meant that MEPs could get to and from Strasbourg. The vote has now been pushed back to 1-2 February. 

And it is a divided France where we turn our attention to this week. Private hire drivers and private hire platforms, including Uber and Bolt, which participated in the government's 'social dialogue' process have come to an agreement on a minimum pay per journey of €7.65. The agreement, signed on Wednesday [18 January], is the culmination of negotiations between the platforms, the Association of Platforms for the Self-Employed (API) and representatives elected by drivers in the controversial social dialogue election, which was boycotted by some trade unions because of Uber's active role in the election process and the President of the social dialogue body (ARPE), Bruno Mettling, having prior links with Uber.

The minimum pay per journey provides a very limited level of social protection (the vast majority of journeys are worth much more than €7.65) which would probably be best described as 'better than nothing'.Iit should not be mistaken for a minimum wage, as it does not include unpaid working time, which on some estimations is worth up to 50% of all working time for drivers. But to pay a minimum wage would mean employing drivers, which the French Government and the platforms are both determined to resist, despite the fact France's courts continue to arrive at the opposite conclusion.

The latest court victory for employment status was in Lyon this week, where Uber has been ordered to pay €17 million to 139 drivers on the basis that their contracts had to be re-qualified as if they had always been working as an employee for the US ridehail giant, rather than as a self-employed "micro-entrepreneur". The drivers' lawyer said the Lyon Industrial Tribunal ruled on the basis of well-established case law from the Court of Cassation in January 2020 which found that Uber drivers should be considered employees.

"It is not a surprise," the lawyer said of the verdict. "It is the logical application of such case law."

The ruling may encourage many more Uber drivers in France to pursue court cases on the same basis, although Uber has said it will appeal, claiming the decision "goes against the position widely shared by industrial tribunals and courts of appeal which confirm the independence of VTC drivers".

A strange situation now exists in France where two arms of the state - the government and the courts - appear to be pulling in entirely different directions on the question of employment status for platform workers. France is the only country where platform executives have been held criminally responsible for fake self-employment, and at the same time it is one of the countries which is most determined in its opposition in the Council of the EU to the Platform Work Directive.

In September, French officials stated in a note that the Directive risked undermining France's social dialogue approach, where "both the platforms and the workers using them remain free to choose their business model and contractual terms". Certainly, France's social dialogue system maintains the platforms' business model, which is not threatened in the slightest by the agreement on minimum pay per journey. But for the drivers? Their "business model" and "contractual terms" are anything but "free to choose".

Only one of two visions for the future of platform work in Europe can win out: a strong presumption of employment, which is seemingly backed up by the French courts, with workers' rights for platform workers or the model of Macron - "Président des riches," as he is commonly referred to in France - where a so-called 'social dialogue' takes place with the platforms always holding the whip hand. Which Europe would you prefer?

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • REAL TERMS PAY FELL 13% FOR UK RIDERS IN 2022: Figures from gig economy app Rodeo has revealed the significant fall in real terms pay for food delivery couriers in the UK in 2022. Income at Deliveroo, Uber Eats, Stuart and Just Eat fell 2.5% on average, but once inflation is factored in that figure rises to 13%. The biggest decrease was at Just Eat, where pay fell 6.1%, and Stuart Delivery, 2.1%,  but both platforms still paid more per order than Deliveroo and Uber Eats. Alex Marshall, President of the IWGB union, said the data showed gig workers have been "amongst the hardest hit by the cost-of-living crisis". Deliveroo claimed the data was "incorrect and misleading". Read more here.
  • ITALIAN COURT FINDS GLOVO RIDERS ARE "SUBORDINATE WORKERS": In another legal victory for employment status in the food delivery sector, a court in the Italian city of Turin found on Monday [17 January] that eight Glovo riders are "subordinate workers", and thus should be paid as salaried employees, taking account of unpaid waiting time and breaks by calculating the working day based on when you log-in to when you log-out. However, the judge rejected the riders claim that they were owed compensation because of the risk of injury or death to which they are exposed. The riders also lost on the question of algorithmic transparency. They had claimed that the algorithm discriminated against riders who organised in unions and took strike action. USB, the union which brought the case to the court, said afterwards that "despite the many sentences won, the delivery companies still persist in hiring workers with fake self-employed contracts" and said they would be launching a new assembly on 26 January to "continue the mobilisation". Glovo said they would appeal against the verdict. Read more here.  
  • JUST EAT SIGNS HOME DELIVERY DEAL WITH SAINSBURY'S: Europe's largest food delivery platform Just Eat has signed a deal to deliver groceries from 175 Sainsbury's supermarkets in the UK. Just Eat will deliver a choice of 3,000 items in less than 30 minutes. All of the major UK supermarkets now have deals with at least one of the food and grocery delivery platforms, and some - including Sainsbury's - have deals with many of them. Just Eat also has deals with Co-op and Waitrose. App-based grocery delivery boomed at the start of the pandemic but has slowed in recent months as the cost of living crisis has worsened. Sainsbury's said their online grocery sales fell 10% over the Christmas period, with Tesco's down 1%. All three UK-based grocery delivery start-up's - Weezy, Fancy and Dija - have now been bought out. Read more here.
  • BARCELONA TAXIS STRIKE AND PREPARE FOR ANOTHER DAY OF ACTION NEXT WEDNESDAY: Barcelona's taxi drivers once again brought central Barcelona to a stand-still on Tuesday [17 January] in protest at private hire platforms (VTCs) driving without a license and in opposition to FreeNow's request to make taxi prices more flexible. The strike by Elité Taxi and STAC took place through Gran Vía to the Catalan Parliament, where they were met by Catalan President Pere Aragonès. FreeNow, a private hire app owned by German car manufacturers BMW and Mercedes and used by many taxis in Barcelona, wants to charge 80 cents as a 'service charge' and between five cents and half a Euro for a 'high demand charge', proposals which have been rejected by the regulator IMET. As for VTCs, the final date for their legal circulation in Catalonia was supposed to be 31 December, yet Elité Taxi's leader Alberto 'Tito' Àlvarez says there are 1,173 which have been given a temporary one year license, a surprise which he calls an "outrage". On the day of the strike, the VTC platform Bolt said it would offer free journeys for passengers. An assembly of Elité Taxi workers voted to have another day of strike action on Wednesday [25 January,] which will coincide with strikes in health and education. Read more here
  • TRENDYOL COURIERS STRIKE IN ISTANBUL: Couriers from Turkish food delivery platform Trendyol took strike action on Monday [16 January] in Istanbul after they did not receive the pay increase they expected on 1 January. Trendyol is a Turkish e-commerce platform that was valued at $16.5 billion in 2021. It's delivery arm, Trendyol Express, was founded in 2018. The couriers say they are forced to work over 45 hours a week and have to work six days a week. They have 18 demands, including a pay rise, that health insurance premiums should be paid by the company, and that limits should be set for the maximum waiting time period and maximum walking distance. The couriers protested outside the company's headquarters but no representative from the company made themselves available. Read more here

The latest on GEP

Uber and EU lobbying: is there a way to keep the baby and throw away the bathwater?

Piero Valmassoi, a policy expert specialised in the platform economy and sustainable urban mobility, reports for the Gig Economy Project on the debate of the European Parliament on Uber lobbying practices on Wednesday [18 January], finding that it will be challenging to rebalance the access that big business enjoys at the highest levels of European policymaking.
From around the web
EU lawmakers must do right by gig workers

Gig Economy Project co-ordinator Ben Wray writes in Reuters' "Context" section making the case for a strong presumption of employment status in the EU's Platform Work Directive.
Fairwork podcast: Youtube gets a union

In Fairwork's latest podcast in its series 'welcome to the planetary labour market', Robbie Warin speaks to German Youtuber Jörg Sprave about his workplace. 
Book Review: Digital Working Lives: Worker Autonomy and the Gig Economy by Tim Christiaens

Kelle Howson, platform economy expert at Research ICT Africa, argues that the platforms' narrative that they create decent work in places where its most needed is not borne out by the facts.

Upcoming events

- Reshaping Work will launch a report on the future of work at a 31 January online event with a range of speakers including Leïla Chaibi MEP and the European Commission's Ana Carla Periera. For full details and to register, click here

- The European Trade Union Institute is hosting an event on the 'Future of work: working with and through digital technology' on the 14 February. 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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