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How to avoid the Platform Work Directive flopping: Learn from experience

Any evidence-based policy making worthy of the name would have a keen eye on the performance of a similar policy that has already been implemented elsewhere. That's about as useful a measure you can find of whether the policy you are considering turning into legislation will have the desired effect. In the case of the EU Platform Work Directive, all of the European institutions, and especially the Council of the EU, should be looking closely at Belgium right now, where a law directly inspired by the European Commission's proposal for the Platform Work Directive entered into force on 1 January 2023 and has changed absolutely nothing. 

We have published a deep-dive into what's gone wrong with Belgium's platform work law here. To summarise, there are two obvious lessons for the EU directive: 1) That whatever criteria the EU comes up with, the platforms will immediately state that they do not meet it, hence the need for a general presumption of employment. 2) Unless the legal burden of proof is switched onto the platforms, any presumption of employment is likely to get bogged down in the courts for years. 

With that said, in this newsletter we will focus on on an academic paper published this week which also provides useful evidence for EU Platform Work Directive decision-makers. Specifically, in relation to how to make sure employment status for platform workers translates into a real improvement to their working conditions.

Valentin Niebler, Giorgio Pirina, Michelangelo Secchi and Franco Tomassoni look at three-cases of ride-hailing regulation and its effects. Thirty-eight qualitative interviews with Uber drivers who are employed in Berlin, Lisbon and Paris reveal a proliferation of "bogus employment models" which "shift the burden of regularisation from platforms towards the subcontracting of third parties and often replicate the risks of self-employed gig work under a formal layer of regulation".

"While this practice rarely strips away all contractual rights and entitlements of workers, it often compromises them severely," the authors argue.

In Berlin, there are 10,000 ridehail drivers, 4400 vehicles and 700 subcontractors, which works out as an average of one subcontractor for every six cars and every 14 drivers. The sub-contractor provides the car and the labour contract to the worker and receives 35% of the earnings, with Uber receiving 30% and the driver 35%. What's not to like? Well, the sub-contractors have found a legal means to circumvent social security obligations to the drivers, including insurance and protection from dismissal. Some rights were illegally denied, such as sick leave. Also, Uber continues to pay-per-task rather than by the hour, a system which is in breach of minimum wage regulations, but there has been no enforcement of the law by the Berlin municipality. The result is high amounts of (unpaid) overwork, similar to self-employed Uber drivers, while union organising is made difficult due to the sub-contracting system. The one clear benefit of employment over self-employment is that the drivers did not have to pay for the car, neither in its purchase or in repairs.

In Portugal, a 2018 law required platforms to operate through intermediary firms. Drivers are paid by the platforms, and in turn pay the sub-contractors, who they can lease a licensed car from and get registration, maintenance and insurance. There are 47,838 ridehail drivers in Lisbon and 11,620 sub-contractors as of December 2022, a sub-contractor for every four drivers. Almost ever-since the law was introduced, there have been protests from drivers over the costs of leasing cars, which have risen exponentially, as well as the piece work pay rates of the platforms. Like in Berlin, many of the same problems of over-work occur, and there is no effective system of supervision of the 2018 regulation. In response to the problems with the 2018 law, an amendment was made to Portugal's Labour Code in December 2022 with the aim of establishing a direct employment relationship between the platforms and the drivers, cutting out the intermediary firms.

In Paris, most drivers are self-employed, but around 30% work as employees, usually because they cannot afford the cost of car purchase. The sub-contractors are very small, usually operating between two to 10 cars, and relations between sub-contractor and driver are often informal, with a variety of payment models, from a monthly wage corresponding to the minimum wage to 30-50% of the daily profits. As in Berlin and Lisbon, these employed Parisian drivers have little access to social security or insurance, and usually work very long hours to earn a sufficient income. 

The authors conclude that there are "three major causes for bogus employment: intentionally unlawful practices, (mis)use of short-term or marginal employment contracts, and lack of enforcement in municipalities." These findings correspond with what the Gig Economy Project has learned about Croatia's sub-contracting system in the gig economy. There is a clear pattern across Europe of platform workers who are formally employed but in practise are denied access to many of the rights which are necessary to have a secure and dignified job. 

As the authors argue, "bogus employment is not a necessary outcome of employment classification rules in ride-hailing". It is entirely dependent on the design of the legislation, the supervision and enforcement mechanisms, and the strength of trade union organisation on-the-ground. In the context of the EU Directive, the authors state that legislators must "address the issue of false employment through subcontracting and other means" as to not do so "contradicts the very goal of such classification reform, namely holding platform firms accountable". They propose that "extending the liability of platforms across the value chain they profit from" as "a first step" to ensuring the legislation tackles both false self-employment and false employment. 

It may well be that the current stage of behind-closed-doors horse-trading and deal-making over the Directive will have little time for such research. There was a rumour this week that the Spanish had made a secret offer to the French via a letter that may or may not exist. Whatever the goings on in the Brussels machine, those of us who are interested in legislation that actually improves the lives of platform workers should be cognisant of what actually works, and what doesn't.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • GLOVO COURIERS STRIKE ACROSS PORTUGAL: In a first for the southern European country, food delivery couriers at Glovo took co-ordinated strike action in three Portuguese cities. The strikes in Lisbon, Coimbra and Porto come after the Catalan-founded food delivery platform introduced a new system which reduced pay and the number of deliveries each rider can get. Anger over the new system led more than 600 Glovo riders to join a Whatsapp group which organised the strike. "Everything is becoming more expensive and Glovo is paying less," Haidar, a migrant from Pakistan who has been a rider for Glovo in Lisbon for three years, told 'abril'. "We do €1.60 for two kilometers. We are the ones who pay for gasoline, cell phones and the cell phone card." A plenary, held in Portuguese but with instant translation so all riders could participate, was organised after the strike to discuss the next steps. The riders decided on a second strike on 2 June, which they will build for through geographic based working groups to grow the numbers. Read more here.
  • MORE THAN HALF OF UK GIG WORKERS EARN BELOW MINIMUM WAGE: A new study has found that the majority of gig workers in the UK are earning below the minimum wage. The 'Gig Rights and Gig Wrongs' report is one of the largest evidence gathering study's of gig workers so far, with a sample of 510 workers across the gig economy. The study also found 25% felt gig work put their safety at risk, while 75% said they experienced work-related anxiety and insecurity. Forty per cent thought there was a chance they would lose their means of making a living on their main digital labour platform in the next year. The majority of gig workers were willing to join or organise a union. The median respondent worked 28 hours per week in the gig economy and earned 60% of their total earnings through this work. While most respondents felt they were self-employed, their top priorities for improving gig work were key employment rights, including a minimum wage, paid holiday time, and payment whenever active on the app. Alex Wood, lead author of the study, said: “The findings highlight that working in the UK gig economy often entails low pay, anxiety and stress. As food, fuel and housing costs keep rising, this group of workers is especially vulnerable and needs to be more adequately remunerated and better protected.” Read more here and read the full report here.
  • SLOVENIAN RIDERS AT WOLT AND GLOVO IN FIRST STRIKE FOR A COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT: Riders in the Sindikat Mladi Plus union took strike action on Friday [12 May] in Slovenia for the first time to demand the two major food delivery platforms, Wolt and Glovo, come to the negotiating table. A video on Twitter showed a group of around 40 riders demonstrating through the streets of Ljubljana. In April, the union had written to the platforms to inform them that they had officially formed a riders' section of the union and were seeking negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement, but so far the platforms have refused to respond. The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), which Sindikat Mladi Plus is affiliated to, wrote a letter in support of the union's actions earlier in the week after a meeting with union activists, stating that they "will make all necessary steps to raise awareness of EU and national policymakers about Wolt and Glovo Slovenia unwillingness to respect EU values of social dialogue and collective bargaining." Read the letter in full here.
  • FRANCE: FORMER MINISTER OF INTERIOR CRITICISES MACRON IN UBER FILES INQUIRY: Bernard Cazeneuve, France's former minister of interior, addressed the parliamentary inquiry into the Uber Files scandal on Thursday [11 May], criticising Emmanuel Macron's "frontality" in pursuing Uber's interests while he was an economy minister in 2015. The inquiry is seeking to uncover how Uber managed to establish itself in France, with the Uber Files leaks showing that the company had relied on the support of France's current President in its illegal entry into the French market in 2015. Cazenueve said Macron's "liberalism" was "no mystery" and therefore he "did not feel opacity but frontality" in Macron's role in advocating for Uber in the government. Cazenueve said that he had sought to defend "the rule of law" against Uber's "perfectly illegal" entry into France. He added that he was unaware of Macron's numerous meetings between the former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Macron in the first half of 2015, and that there was no secret "deal" between Uber and the government to allow the company to operate. Cazenueve said he was in favour of a presumption of employment in the platform economy, in the context of the EU Platform Work Directive which is currently being negotiated at the EU Council. The French government is known to be a vociferous opponent of the inclusion of the presumption of employment in the Directive. Read more here.
  • UK GROCERY DELIVERY RIDERS MAY BE MADE SELF-EMPLOYED: 'Q-Commerce' platforms in the UK are preparing to make their riders and 'pickers' independent contractors, according to a report in The Observer. Across Europe, grocery delivery platforms generally employ the workers at their 'dark stores', but consultant Quaid Combstock, who previously was in charge of delivery operations for former grocery delivery platform Jiffy, said that the prospect of the UK Government introducing an Employment Bill which would strengthen worker protections in the gig economy had receded, leading major Q-commerce platforms to look to alter their labour model. “One of the largest firms in the sector is planning to move back into the gig economy because it is cheaper to pay people a fixed price for each delivery than by the hour," he said. "It’s all about cost savings. The industry opinion is that the government is not going to intervene, so why not go for the cheaper option.” Combstock added that the platform had already stopped offering guaranteed hours and their "next move will be to terminate existing contracts and offer people gig contracts if they wish to apply. I understand it will be some time…in the next two to three months.” One grocery delivery courier, Ian Morrison, said: "It would be devastating if they were to move us on to a gig-economy model. Having that sense of security on quiet days is so important." Read more here.

On GEP this week

Is Belgium’s platform work law “a dead letter”?

Belgium introduced a platform work law on 1 January that has so far not changed anything. Gig Economy Project co-ordinator Ben Wray visited Brussels to find out what the problem is, and what lessons there are to learn for the EU Platform Work Directive.
Open letter – EU labour ministers: Will you work for us or for Uber?

Trade unions and platform worker collectives across Europe have signed the following open letter addressed to ministers of labour of the EU member-states, calling for them to support a Platform Work Directive on the Council of the EU which ensures platform workers’ rights are protected.
From around the web
The gig economy is much worse for women

Megan Carnegie writes in 'Wired' on the problems women face working in the gig economy.
Lessons from the EU Platform Work Directive

Shreeja Sen and Sreyan Chatterjee write in 'Botpopuli' on the strengths and weaknesses of the EU Platform Work Directive, and what lessons there might be for countries in the global south.
Delivery Charge Ep 4: Delivery workers vs the ghost of Hans Carl Nipperdey

Anju John's podcast series continues by looking at the legal battle of fired Gorillas workers in Berlin over the right to strike.

Upcoming events

- Worker Info Exchange has announced a protest to oppose the UK Government's Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which it says will strip away what few algorithmic data rights platform workers have. The protest will take place on Thursday 18 May, 11am, at the Business Department on Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0NE. Click here for more info.

- The Cambridge Technology and New Media Research Cluster will host an online talk titled 'How to Do Things at Scale? (Re)Locating Platform Power in the Gig Economy' with platform work expert Dr Niels van Doorn,  Associate Professor of New Media & Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam, on Monday 22 May, 3-4pm. Click here for full details and to register.

- 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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