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Is a tax earthquake coming for Europe's digital labour platforms?

Avoiding social security contributions and sales taxes is one of the big boons of the self-employed gig economy model for platforms. The deliberate displacement of tax liabilities from platforms onto platform workers was brutally exposed by the Uber Files last year, which revealed that Uber had a strategy of helping tax authorities collect from Uber drivers to deflect the tax man's gaze from the company itself. 

A court ruling this week was a victory for those who believe platforms' should bear much more of the tax burden. OnlyFans, a content creator platform known for adult content, is liable to pay VAT on sales of all user-created content, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has found

HMRC, the UK tax collection service, had ruled in April 2020 that OnlyFans had to pay VAT on all the revenue it generated from 2017 to 2020. OnlyFans appealed to a UK court, arguing that it should only be liable to pay VAT on the 20% commission it takes from content creators on its platform.

The UK court sought advice from the CJEU on how EU law applied to the issue (over almost all of the time in question Britain was still in the EU). The CJEU found that although the platform acted as an intermediary between the content creators and the customers, it was still considered to be "the supplier of services provided" according to the VAT Directive tax law. 

OnlyFans' VAT contribution quintupling in the UK raises two wider questions: if OnlyFans has to pay full VAT, why not all the other digital labour platforms? And if this applies in the UK, why not in the EU as well?

In March 2022, Uber started paying VAT in the UK after a court ruled it was the contractor of services. As we know, Uber employs its drivers in the UK after a 2021 UK Supreme Court ruling (although the company has ignored key aspects of that verdict). In most EU states Uber drivers remain self-employed, but the CJEU ruling implies that platforms are culpable for full VAT even if they don't employ those who work on their platform. 

For ADCU union General Secretary James Farrar, the CJEU ruling raises the question of employment status for OnlyFans workers in the UK, because if "HMRC thinks Only Fans is the controlling principal why shouldn't an Employment Tribunal think the same." But Farrar also says that OnlyFans content creators appear to have more control over their work than, for example, Uber drivers, which suggests that if OnlyFans have to pay full VAT there is little reason why other platforms which exercise greater control should not also have to.

"The ruling may just be the makings of a taxation straight jacket for gig platforms throughout the EU," Farrar adds.

The CJEU had already ruled in 2017 that Uber should be considered a transportation company, and not a digital platform, for tax purposes. In 2020, the Elité Taxi union led a claim that Uber is committing tax fraud by not paying tax in Spain on income derived from that country, on the basis of the 2017 CJEU ruling. Uber currently pays a limited amount of tax in the Netherlands, where its European headquarters is based. The Spanish tax authority is still investigating.

The issue at hand may therefore be whether governments and tax authorities in the EU are willing to pursue cases in the way HMRC has with OnlyFans in the UK. Tax collection from big platforms is as much a matter of political will as it is about the letter of the law. Suffice to say, there is a lot of money at stake.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator


Gig Economy news round-up

  • WOLT COURIERS IN COPENHAGEN STRIKE OVER NEW PAYMENT SYSTEM: Wolt food delivery couriers in Copenhagen have become the latest to strike against the company's introduction of a new payment system, which has caused widespread consternation in the countries in which it has been rolled out. Wolt has introduced the dynamic pricing system in several European countries now, and each time couriers have been angry that it has reduced pay and de-linked pay from distance travelled, making it impossible to work out how much they are going to be paid. The wildcat strike on Monday [6 March] in the Danish capital comes after recent Wolt strikes in Georgia, Czech Republic and Lithuania over the same issue. Wolt is a Finnish-founded delivery platform which was bought by US firm DoorDash at the end of 2021 and now operates in 27 countries. The Gig Economy Project has screenshots of Wolt riders complaining about the new system, with one Copenhagen rider stating that he is now earning almost 35% less. Video of the strike protest here.
  • COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT AT DANISH LAST MILE DELIVERY FIRM NEMLIG.COM: Workers at last mile delivery firm in Denmark have secured a collective bargaining agreement which will see many of them get employment contracts, payment for overtime and collectively negotiated wages for the first time. While sub-contracting will still be allowed, sub-contracted drivers will get the same wage as directly employed drivers. The workers, who are members of the 3F union, are overwhelmingly migrants and many were worried about getting involved in the union at first in case they lost their work permits, according to Jan Villadsen, chairman of 3F Transport, who said it took a two year campaign to get to the point of securing the collective agreement. Villadsen added that the collective agreement meant they now had agreements signed with four companies in this sector, which "will make it easier to convince other companies that it is a good idea to negotiate with 3F Transport instead of being targeted by a campaign". Read more here.
  • CROWDFUNDING EFFORT FOR COURIERS WHO LOST EVERYTHING IN LONDON FIRE: A crowdfunder has been set-up after 15 Bangladeshi brothers lost everything in a London, UK fire on 4 March. One of the brothers died in hospital from critical injuries from the fire in the overcrowded three-bedroom flat in Shadwell, East London. The majority of the brothers are food delivery couriers for Deliveroo and Uber Eats, and have now lost their phones and e-bikes. According to the fundraiser, "the council and the government is offering limited help". Alex Marshall, President of the IWGB union and a former food delivery courier, tweeted in support of the fundraiser: "This is absolutely devastating and shows the catastrophic effects of the hostile environment forcing people to work in exploitative jobs that can only afford them overcrowded, unsafe housing. Please give what you can to show these guys we are here to support them." Link to fundraiser here.
  • BALEARIC ISLANDS RULE OUT UBER, BOLT & CABIFY OPERATIONS FOR NOW: The regional government of the Balearic Islands, a cluster of islands off Spain's east coast including Mallorca and Ibiza, has ruled out private hire platforms (VTCs) operating on the islands, in a blow to Uber, Bolt and Cabify. In a decree law on Monday [6 March], the Balearic executive ruled that they would prioritise increasing the flexibility of the taxi service in order to increase supply in the busy tourist season. A loophole exists in the law which could allow municipalities to authorise VTCs if licences were to be issued in the future, but no licenses are being issued as it stands. The Executive has also given itself a one-year deadline to unify taxi services on the islands through one app, with homogenous prices. Read more here.
  • FINES FOR FALSE SELF-EMPLOYMENT TO BE SPEEDED UP IN SPAIN: A change in Spain's Employment Law that went almost unnoticed is set to have a transformative effect on the Labour Inspectorate's sanctioning of food delivery companies for fake self-employment. Until now, the Labour Inspectorate had to justify every sanction through the courts, which made the sanction procedure very long, but with the change to the law they will now be directly enforceable. María José Díaz of the Progressive Union of Labour Inspectors told 'El Diario' that the old process slowed down sanctions by "two or three years", adding that the new system "benefits the workers because the procedure will end much sooner than what was happening". Glovo, Spain's largest food delivery platform, faces paying over €150 million in fines due to fake self-employment but has delayed payment through appeals in the courts. This route to slowing the process down will now be blocked, although the company will still have the chance to appeal. More Glovo fines are expected, as the current fines referred to Labour Inspectorate cases before the passing of the 'Rider Law' in 2021, but Glovo has ignored the law and continued to operate a self-employed model since the law was passed. Adrián Todolí, labour professor at the University of Valencia, described the law change as a "revolution" in the government's anti-labour fraud enforcement. Read more here.  

On GEP this week

Gendered digital labour: Interview with Al James

On International Women’s Day, the Gig Economy Project speaks to Professor Al James about his research on the experience of female workers in the online gig economy. Interview available as a podcast and in text form.
From around the web
My experiences with the gig economy

Joe Durbidge, a food delivery courier in London and member of the IWGB union, writes about his experience of gig work in 'Red Pepper'.
Disconnecting labour: The impact of intraplatform algorithmic changes on the labour process and workers' capacity to organise collectively

Paper by Pedro Mondonça and Nadia K. Kougiannou finds that changes in algorithmic management can generate "a reconfigured, fragmented and compliant workforce".
Power outages are killing South Africa's gig economy

Kimberly Mutandiro writes in 'Rest of World' on how South Africa's gig economy is being affected by power outages.

Upcoming events

- The Leeds Index of Platform Labour will launch its global database of platform worker resistance on 27 March at a hybrid event in London. Click here for full details.

- The UNI Global Union will host a hybrid event on 'dark stores' and app-based grocery delivery, 28 March in Brussels, Belgium, from 3-4.30pm. Click here for more details and to register. 

- Wage Indicator will host a webinar on women in web-based gig work on Friday 31 March, 2-3.30pm. 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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