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Resisting robo-firings in Brussels

One of the worst aspects of the relationship between platforms and gig workers is account deactivations. In 'Fired by an app', a new report by Rideshare Drivers United (RDU) and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) based on a survey of 810 Californian drivers, the arbitrary suspension or termination of workers’ accounts is revealed to be common practice, experienced by two thirds of those interviewed.

Considering that this is the main source of income for the families of most drivers (81% of respondents), the impact of being 'robo-fired' is serious. Workers often do not receive any justification and they are not able to establish a non-automated channel of communication with the platform, as complaints can be exclusively filed through the app.

The report also proves that non-white workers are disproportionately the subject of account deactivation. Non-native speakers also find themselves in a particularly difficult situation when filing complaints through the automated appeal system. 

The practice of terminating accounts is also a union-busting strategy. Callum Cant, in his book 'Riding for Deliveroo', explains that union organisers in Leeds, UK, had their accounts blocked during a local campaign against the move to a full piece rate system of pay in 2017.

Another purpose for which account deactivation has been used by platforms is to reduce labour supply as and when convenient. As the French union CLAP has denounced, UberEats facilitated access to the app for undocumented workers in times of high demand during the peak of the pandemic, before deactivating the same riders in the summer of 2022 when demand reduced, leaving countless families without any source of income. 

As an activist at the Maison des Livreurs ('House of Couriers') in Brussels (pictured above), where we provide support to platform workers on questions of employment status, salary and working conditions, the problems of robo-firing are all too familiar.

Unfair and arbitrary terminations of accounts is one of the main concerns which couriers and drivers bring to Maison des Livreurs. In supporting these gig workers, we have sought to bypass the ineffective automated system and to establish a human channel of communication with Uber.

Despite the hostile response we have received from the platform, it's clear that our presence at Uber's Brussels HQ has had an impact. A few days after the mobilisation, several workers which we were representing had their accounts reactivated.

As an article in the LA Times on the Fired by an App report states, "Uber’s not going to change course on its own”. Workers can only continue keeping up the pressure on them. We need to collectively organise for platform workers' rights and build the strength to reverse the balance of power between platforms and workers.

Piero Valmassoi, Gig Economy Project contributor and activist at the Brussels House of Couriers


Gig Economy news round-up

  • 'JUSTICE FOR MOHAMMED' PROTEST IN LONDON AFTER SHOCKING INCIDENT: A rally in London on Friday [4 March] called for gig workers' rights after a shocking incident a week earlier sparked widespread anger. Mohammed, a Deliveroo food delivery courier, was found seriously ill at a delivery point on 23 February by App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) General Secretary James Farrar, who's tweet thread about the incident has been seen over five million times. It took over 18 hours for Deliveroo to respond with anything other than automated replies, and the customers who Mohammed was delivering the food for simply stepped over the unconscious delivery courier to collect their food. Employees at the building denied Mohammed, who remains in hospital, access to the building despite his condition. The ADCU rally saw speeches from Jeremy Corbyn MP and others demanding justice for Mohammed and an end to precarious employment. See the tweet thread here.
  • PRESSURE BUILDS ON MACRON OVER PLATFORM WORK DIRECTIVE: Pressure is increasing on the French Government over its opposition to the inclusion of a presumption of employment in the platform economy in the EU Platform Work Directive. France Insoumise MP Mathilde Panot has written to the French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, demanding a debate and vote on the topic in the French Parliament. The French Government leads a group in the Council of the EU which is most fiercely opposed to the inclusion of the presumption of employment in its text, which it has claimed would undermine the 'social dialogue' model it has introduced nationally. The French parliament's Uber Files investigation also held the second round of its hearings on Thursday [2 March]. The inquiry is seeking to understand the extent of links between French President Emmanuel Macron and Uber from 2014 to 2016, after the Uber Files revealed the then-Cabinet Minister's role in Uber's unregulated entry into the French market. Read more here. 
  • 'GIGPEDIA' LAUNCHED: A central hub for information on the gig economy worldwide has been launched. 'Gigpedia' is a joint project between the WageIndicator Foundation, the Fairwork project and the Leeds Index of Platform Labour Protest. The site includes information about existing legislation, court cases and labour standards ratings for specific platforms, as well as platform work case studies and gig economy news. Fiona Dragstra, director of the WageIndicator Foundation, said the site aims "to become the global information hub for platform work", adding: "We think it's a good sign and quite cool, that with the launch of we are already able to group the knowledge of three leading organisations on the global gig economy, and hope more will follow." Access the site here
  • UK: 4 IN 5 GIG WORKERS SAY WAGE DOESN'T COVER COST OF LIVING: A survey by law firm Leigh Day of 860 Addison Lee and Bolt drivers in the UK has found appalling working conditions. More than 80% say their income doesn't cover the cost of living, with half having worked 12 hour days and 75% having worked more than six days in a row without a day off. In 2022 Leigh Day launched a court action against Bolt claiming their drivers should be employed, while a 2021 court ruling found Addison Lee drivers should have workers' rights. Nigel Mackay, a partner in the Leigh Day employment team, said: “Gig economy workers should not be struggling to feed their families and pay their bills purely because the companies they work for, such as Addison Lee and Bolt, refuse to accept that they should be classified as more workers and given the rights this status affords." Read more here
  • JUST EAT COURIERS PROTEST AS COMPANY ANNOUNCES €5.7 BILLION LOSS: Just Eat, Europe's largest food delivery platform, published it's 2022 financial report, seeking to put a brave face on a €5.7 billion loss, despite that being a massive €4.7 billion more than in 2021. The Dutch company saw its revenue grow to €5.5 billion despite a drop in the number of orders. The big hit to the company's finances has been the purchase of US firm Grubhub in 2022 for €6.5 billion, which it is already trying to sell and is considered to be worth €4.6 billion less than the purchase price. On Tuesday [28 February], Lieferando (the German brand of Just Eat) couriers protested in Berlin in front of the company's German headquarters, demanding a collective agreement with an hourly wage of at least €15. Read more here. 

On GEP this week

Berlin: A new solidarity fund will combat "wage theft" in labour disputes

The PayDay e.V. fund in Berlin has been established to counter the threat of wage theft as a tool for union-busting.
Hubert Horan: Can Uber ever deliver?

Uber expert Hubert Horan separates fact from fiction in the company’s latest company accounts..
From around the web
Podcast: What new EU rules might mean for gig workers, with Ben Wray

Gig Economy Project co-ordinator Ben Wray speaks to Paris Marx on his Tech Won't Save Us podcast about all things the gig economy in Europe.
Why is it so hard to unionise in the gig economy?

Hannah Davenport, trade union reporter at Left Foot Forward, looks at the challenges of organising in the gig economy.
Let's not forget the humans who power the platform economy

Academic Sarrah Kassem introduces key themes from her new book 'Work and alienation in the platform economy'.

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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