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Child labour, France's 'social dialogue' breakdown and a Platform Work Directive diagram

It's been an interesting week of news in Europe's gig economy, so we are going to do something a bit different and give a brief analysis of a few different stories.

Child labour in UK food delivery sector 

First, a BBC investigation in the UK has uncovered child labour in the food delivery sector. The family of a 17-year old who died while working for Deliveroo has spoken out against the platforms, saying they are "unaccountable". The BBC found that the use of substitutes - where riders can lend their account to another person to work instead of them - "fuels an online trade in accounts, including potentially to children".

This will be nothing new to the vast majority of readers of this newsletter, with academic studies and other reports having identified this years ago, but it's nonetheless significant that a major broadcaster like the BBC has uncovered this, not least because it attracts the attention of politicians. UK Government Home Secretary responded to the story by calling on the platforms to reform the substitution system, so that the substitute also had to be verified by the app as well as the account holder. 

Jenrick's solution won't solve the problem. Go to any major European city, find your nearest McDonald's and talk to the group of riders waiting around there and they will explain to you all the ways there is to get around automated digital verification, including facial recognition. The truth is that food delivery platforms will never be sure about who is working for them unless there is daily, in-person human verification, which would require turning up at a hub at a specific time for the start of work. That sounds an awful lot like employment.

New technological fixes are simply more subterfuge for platforms to make money off-the-back of workers who can't work legally, have very few options and thus are easily exploitable, especially undocumented migrants but also children. While the focus of the UK Government so far has been to crackdown on the rider, rather than on the platform, that becomes harder to justify politically when child labour is involved.

France's 'social dialogue' model in tatters

GEP has been reporting for a few weeks now on Uber Eats France's introduction of a new payment system that has been met with a furious response from riders. The Silicon Valley platform claims the changes reduce pay for shorter trips but increase it for longer ones. The riders say they are losing money, with one union, Indépendants, finding that pay has dropped between 10-40%.

That union has now announced a national Uber Eats strike for 2-3 December alongside CGT. One of the interesting things about this is that those two unions are among the platform worker representatives on France's Social Relations Authority for Employment Platforms (ARPE), which is President Emmanuel Macron's alternative 'solution' to the problem of precariousness in the gig economy than employment status.

In January of this year, the ARPE negotiated a minimum hourly pay per journey of €7.65 in the food delivery sector.  Indépendants warned the ARPE last week that they were considering calling a national strike because they believe Uber Eats' new payment system is in breach of the pay per journey agreement. The fact that they have now done so suggests that Macron's 'social dialogue' model, which French officials have claimed during Platform Work Directive negotiations is a compelling alternative route to gig worker protection than employment status, is losing any credibility it had.

In advance of the CGT and Indépendants strike, the INV union (one of many to have boycotted the ARPE) has announced a 'black out' of Uber private hire and food delivery starting today [19 November] and lasting until 27 November. So it's all go in France!

Platform Work Directive saga latest

It's been a bit of a quieter week in the Platform Work Directive saga than recent ones, but there are some significant updates nonetheless. Thomas Göransson, International Secretary for EU Affairs at Swedish union Unionen, has published details of the differences between the European Parliament and Council of the EU's compromise proposals on the presumption of employment.  They show the extent of the gap between the two sides, which remains large. 

The Council has been pushing the Parliament rapporteur Elisabetta Gualmini MEP to cave in, but she was reportedly "not happy" with the Council's position. Also, Göransson was told that the European Commission "considered that progress would require more openness from the Council," so the pressure to compromise may be pushed back towards the member-states. All sides are concerned about "slow progress" as the talk ticks down to the end of the legislature.  

The European Trade Union Confederation Confederal Secretary Ludovic Voet has written to the Council on their presumption of employment proposal, stating that "instead of improving the current situation, the Council puts in place a set of obstacles for workers to achieve justice". This has been demonstrated by a neat diagram which the ETUC has released, which walks through step-by-step the various obstacles the Council proposal would place in platform workers' path to be re-classified as an employee. It's well worth a look, especially if you are still grappling with the technicalities. 

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

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Gig Economy news round-up

  • GLOVO 'MACRO-TRIAL' BEGINS IN SPAIN: A 'macro-trial' of 3,200 Glovo couriers over false-self employment finally got started on Thursday [16 November]. The trial relates to riders deemed false self-employed by the Labour Inspectorate in 2018. It was due to take place last November but was delayed for a year on the request of Glovo, Spain's largest food delivery platform. "It is a shame to have thousands of workers waiting for five years for a trial on a matter that has already been resolved by the Supreme Court . It is simply having people dancing with legal problems that affect their lives," Fernando García, a former Glovo rider who is now head of digital platforms at the UGT union, said. Delivery Hero, Glovo's parent company, has set aside between €200-400 million in fines and back-dated social security contributions for Glovo in Spain. The trial started on the same day as Spanish President Pedro Sánchez was sworn in for another term in offce, despite his party, PSOE, finishing second in the July 23 election. Sánchez will continue to govern in coalition with left-wing Sumar, who's leader, Yolanda Díaz, will remain as Minister of Labour, after introducing a general presumption of employment through the 'Rider Law' in the previous parliamentary term, which Glovo and Uber Eats have refused to abide by. Díaz's ministry has already made it clear they will be pursuing criminal prosecutions against the executives of the two platforms. Read more here.
  • UBER TO LAUNCH 'UBER TASKS' TO HIRE DRIVERS FOR CHORES: Uber will launch 'Uber Tasks' as a "small pilot" in three American cities, the company has confirmed. Uber Tasks will be a Task Rabbit-like service, where customers can book drivers and couriers, who can opt-in to the service, to do household chores. An Uber spokesperson said the list of tasks would include furniture assembly, snow removal, laundry, packing/unpacking, holiday decorating and gardening. “This small pilot is the newest way for drivers and couriers to put their skills to work and earn on their own schedule," the spokesperson said. Uber Tasks is likely to be an attempt to find a new source of revenue growth: Uber's Q3 earnings report saw the company make its second ever profit but growth was below expectations. Responding to the news, Leïla Chaibi, France Insoumise MEP and campaigner for platform workers' rights, asked whether this was "Uber or a new episode of black mirror?". Read more here
  • DELIVEROO EMPLOYMENT STATUS COURT APPEAL BEGINS IN BELGIUM: The Brussels Labour Court began appeal hearings on Thursday [16 November] over the question of employment status of Deliveroo riders. Currently, the great majority of riders in Belgium (85%) work under the P2P (Peer2Peer) fiscal regime, which has an annual income ceiling of €7170 gross and does not provide for social security. In December 2021, the court ruled that Deliveroo could not hire riders under P2P status because they were carrying out "a professional activity". The judge reclassified the riders as self-employed, not employees, as the public prosecutor, unions, and riders had argued for. If the appeal confirms the first part of the ruling, implying that the P2P regime cannot be used by platforms to hire riders, the Belgian Finance Minister will have to enforce a new employment status from 1 January 2024. Martin Willems of the United Freelancers union stated: “It’s a surreal situation, we are discussing workers’ conditions of 2018 and 2019. Riders are worried about their current working conditions and revenues. I hope that the judgement will tell Deliveroo that it is time to respect the law, but it shows how slow justice is”. Camille Peteers of the Brussels Couriers’ Collective said: “Riders have all the disadvantages of being self-employed and of being employed: Deliveroo must choose whether we are employees or real self-employed”. The new Belgian platform work law, which came into force at the beginning of 2023 and implies a presumption of employment based on criteria, has not re-classified any workers' so far, as the platforms have argued that it does not apply to them. Read more here. (Report by Piero Valmassoi.)
  • GETIR PURCHASES US GROCERY DELIVERY COMPANY FRESHDIRECT: Despite the Turkish company laying-off thousands of workers and shutting down operations in four European countries over the summer, Getir has announced the purchase of a US Q-Commerce firm. FreshDirect, based in New York, is the largest grocery delivery company on the East Coast. The cost of the purchase has not been made public. Tech.EU reports that the deal "emphasises Getir's strategic ambitions to grow in North America". Getir was once valued at €11.8 billion but falling demand for Q-Commerce, supply chain problems and a harsher environment for venture capital investment have all contributed to the firm's valuation falling to €2.5 billion in September, when it raised €500 million in new funding. The company exited France, Italy, Spain and Portugal over the summer, and announced they were cutting 2,500 jobs worldwide in August. Getir still operates in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Turkey and the US. Read more here.
  • WOLT FOUNDER FINLAND'S HIGHEST EARNER IN 2022: Miki Kuusi, the founder of Finnish food delivery platform Wolt, was the country's highest earner in 2022, a 'top-20 income list' has revealed. Kuusi sold Wolt to American multinational DoorDash at the start of 2022. He is now DoorDash's 'Head of International'. The sale ensured Kuusi made €79 million last year, well ahead of the second highest earner, on €54 million. While Kuusi might be rolling in cash, Wolt's riders are not. A rash of strikes took place across Europe in March after the company rolled out a 'dynamic pricing' system of pay which saw average pay fall significantly, according to the riders. YLE reports this week that a car driver, Henry, is giving up delivering for Wolt because of changes to the platform's payment system, which has seen his income fall 40%. Whereas previously he was paid per drop-off, now he is paid once if he drives five kilometres to make three separate deliveries. "The courier drives the distance only once," said Lauri Hallavo, Wolt's head of operations, defending the change. Read more here.
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From around the web
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Undocumented Workers Are Challenging France’s Olympics Juggernaut — and Winning

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The European Work-Time Network will host a webinar on 'AI & the Algorithmic Management of Work: Implications for working time in Europe and the Global South' on 29 November, 1pm CET. Agnieszka Piasna, European Trade Union Institute senior researcher, and James Muldoon, Head of Digital Research at the Autonomy think tank, will be the speakers. Click here for full details and to register.

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