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Platform Work Directive: Uber brings out the big threats

You know things are heating up when Uber decides it's time to bring out the big threats. In the FT on Wednesday [20 September], Uber made a series of warnings about what they would do if the EU Platform Work Directive requires them to employ their workers.

Anabel Díaz, head of Uber’s mobility division in Europe, said: “If Brussels forces Uber to reclassify drivers and couriers across the EU, we could expect to see a 50-70 per cent reduction in the number of work opportunities,” adding that Uber could stop operating in "hundreds" of the 3,000 European cities it currently operates within. And just to make it clear that employment status is bad news for everyone, she also said that prices for consumers would rise 40% and there would be longer waiting times. 

Of course, the Silicon Valley platform's motives here are entirely innocent, as "this isn’t about Uber’s profits". The company has "already proven our ability to grow in places like Germany and Spain using a third-party employment model,” she explained.

If we were to take Díaz's arguments at face-value, what she is essentially saying is that Uber's drivers and riders are currently missing out on wages and social security benefits equivalent to 40% of the customer price per trip or delivery. Considering this is very low-paid work, Díaz inadvertently makes a strong case for employment rights.

Also, if there would be a "50-70 per cent reduction in the number of work opportunities" when workers are employed, that strongly suggests that Uber has an over-supply of labour on its app currently of about 50-70 per cent. Too many workers chasing too little work forces them into a race-to-the-bottom, where workers feel they have to accept any level of pay not to miss out entirely. Again, Díaz has managed to unwittingly expose the precariousness of Uber's current model, which should lead one to consider that Uber's drivers and riders may have more security as employees. 

And of course this is about Uber's profits. The company's presence in Spain and Germany is limited precisely because there are strong regulations on its operations there. In deregulated UK and France, on the otherhand, Uber is rampant. If Uber wasn't worried about its ability to make money, why would it be threatening to pull out of hundreds of cities? If profits are no concern, then why doesn't it absorb the increased cost of employing its workers rather than threaten to push it on to its customers?

In reality, these are all empty threats. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has even said himself when asked by investors about the Platform Work Directive that the company "can make any model work". But even if the threats did have substance, they shouldn't be feared. As Dutch Green MEP Kim van Sparrentak put it: "If Uber cannot pay its drivers a decent wage including social benefits, maybe it should not operate in these cities at all. There is no reason for us to tolerate business models based on exploitation in our European cities."

Sadly, it's unlikely that everyone in Brussels will be responding to Uber's threats in the same way as van Sparrentak. Uber's propaganda offensive may work because politicians are getting jittery about rising unemployment across the 27-member state bloc, with more likely to be on its way as the European Central Bank continues to push up interest rates, despite inflation pressures easing. Unemployment was not a big concern when the Platform Work Directive was first put on the agenda in 2019, when the focus was on the quality, rather than quantity, of work. 

Why has almost no government at national-level bothered to regulate platform work to date? A widely recognised but unspoken factor is that politicians find the informality of the gig economy to be useful for massaging employment statistics, because it stops some workers tipping over from being underemployed to being unemployed. Underemployment doesn't create many news headlines, and underemployed workers don't get paid unemployment benefit. Any EU law - however just it may be - which could alter that delicate balance may be frowned upon in many of the capitals of Europe.

As it is, the 'trilogue' negotiations over the Platform Work Directive appear to be stuck. An informal meeting was held on Monday [18 September] but it was reported that there were "no breakthroughs", with the next meeting set for 3 October.

The crux of the divisions centre on the the all-important details of a presumption of employment, which could, like in Belgium, end up as a lame duck if there are too many loopholes. In an intervention which was the polar opposite of Uber's, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and associate organisations published an open letter this week which counters the argument's in favour of a watered-down presumption of employment systematically. The ETUC's intervention hasn't got a tenth of the attention of Uber's, but it's worth reading to grasp the genuine problems with the Council and the Commission's positions. 

Yolanda Díaz, the Spanish Government's Minister of Labour who has led the charge for a strong Platform Work Directive, met Nicolas Schmit, the European Commissioner responsible for platform work, this week in Santiago de Compostela as part of an event hosted by the Spanish presidency of the EU to discuss "the future of work and social dialogue". Díaz has said she wants the Spanish presidency to be "the most social in history", but she has just three months to get the Platform Work Directive over the line before the presidency passes over to Belgium. At that point, the European Parliament elections will be in sight and the Directive will be in real danger of being timed-out.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • MILAN RIDERS IN 3-DAY STRIKE FOR BETTER WORKING CONDITIONS: Glovo and Deliveroo riders took strike action for three days last weekend (15-17 September) to demand better working conditions. The riders halted deliveries by picketing key restaurants and around 200 protested in Piazza Duca d'Aosta. The strike was  self-organised by riders from the south-East Asian community, and was supported by riders' collective Deliverance Milano and union Nidil Cgil. The demands include "guaranteed minimum payment, higher bonuses and reimbursement for the vehicle", as well as "severance payment" for Uber Eats riders, after the platform announced earlier this year that it was exiting the Italian market. Piero Valmassoi, platform work policy expert and journalist, tweeted that the strike came in response to "platforms lowering pay in September down to €3/gross per delivery". Read more here.
  • FRENCH 'SOCIAL DIALOGUE' PROCESS REACHES NEW AGREEMENT ON ACCOUNT DEACTIVATIONS: France's controversial 'social dialogue' process for platform work has announced a new agreement on account deactivations for ridehail drivers. The agreement between platforms and five of the seven workers' organisations represented will see an end to deactivations "without notice", with drivers given "the opportunity to respond", according to the unions involved in the agreement, who described it as “significant progress in favour of VTC drivers”. A "principle of compensation for drivers" in "the event of unjustified suspension of the account” has also been established. The Employment Platforms Regulatory Authority (ARPE), which is responsible for arbitrating the negotiation process, also said in a statement that a second agreement was reached on driver access to data "on important aspects of their activity", for example the effect of the trip cancellation rate on the price of future trips. The agreement is the second to be signed through ARPE, the first in January agreed a minimum income per delivery/trip of €7.65. Many unions have boycotted the social dialogue process, refusing to participate in the elections for worker representatives, due to the perceived  influence of Uber, with the outgoing head of ARPE, Bruno Mettling, having previously worked on behalf of the Silicon Valley company. Read more here.
  • FRICHTI RIDERS STRIKE AS COMPANY PREPARES TO BE LIQUIDATED: Riders for grocery delivery platform Frichti in France have been on strike since Tuesday [19 September], after receiving a letter stating that the company would be liquidated on 27 September. Frichti was bought by Turkish grocery delivery platform in January 2022 and, unusually for the grocery delivery sector, hires its riders on a self-employed basis. The company entered into receivership in May, before Gorillas' and Getir's French operations also entered into receivership in July. Frichti rider Vazoumana Kedas Meite told Franceinfo that they are requesting compensation from the company, after being told that their service contract would end in less than a week, on 25 September. "We are not warned in time, we have families to manage,” Kouadio Kouame, another Frichti rider, said. Meite said that 165 riders, out of a workforce of 400, were blocking Frichti operations across six sites. “We are considered self-employed, but not at all, we are like employees,” Meite added. Kevin Mention, a lawyer for food delivery couriers, said the liquidation is a "disguised economic dismissal". Mention is leading a court action on behalf of 200 Frichti riders, who are accusing the company of false-self employment. Read more here.
  • HOUSE OF COURIERS LAUNCHES IN PALERMO: The Sicilian city of Palermo has established a House of Couriers, in memory of a rider and trade unionist who died in 2021. The House of Couriers is named after Antonio Prisco, who was an organiser of the riders in Naples for the NIdiL and CGIL unions. Prisco's widow, Valentina Tafuni, said at the inauguration: "Antonio gave much of his life for the recognition of the dignity of workers on bikes and scooters, he did it with commitment and self-sacrifice...A starting point of his work was to put the desire to be together again in the same place before the vision of technological innovation, of being isolated, not connected." Fabio Lo Monaco, general secretary of Filt Cgil, also spoke at the launch, stating: “Working on the street, riders have no physical support points where they can get refreshments such as simply going to the bathroom or being able to recharge their electric bike”. House of Couriers' have also been established in Paris, Brussels, Vienna and Bordeaux, providing a place for riders to rest, talk and organise. Read more here.
  • PRO-UBER MADRID PRESIDENT CONSIDERS PRICE LIMITS ON RIDEHAIL: The right-wing President of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, known for her pro-free market and pro-Uber policies, is said to be considering introducing restrictions on "abusive price increases" by ridehail (VTC) platforms. 'Surge pricing' is the sharp increase in prices at times of very high demand, such as major sports events or festivals. It helps attract drivers to work at specific times to meet surges in consumer demand. But there have been complaints from customers that they are being taken advantage of, with customers even quoted prices by Uber and Cabify of over €100 for short trips in the Spanish capital. The Community of Madrid is said to be considering the legality of price restrictions ahead of draft regulation next year, according to 'SER'. Ayuso is considered the most pro-Uber President of Spain's autonomous communities, passing a VTC law last year which led to strikes and protests from taxi drivers. Read more here.
Have we missed something important? You can help keep us informed by sending information to
Spain: “Pioneering” criminal complaint for fake-self employment could lead to jail time for Glovo bosses

Legal complaint comes after the government changed the Penal Code last year to make false-self employment a criminal offence.
From around the web
Uber hates this app that tells drivers whether it’s worth picking you up

Laís Martins reports in 'Rest of World' on an app in Brazil that tells drivers whether it's financially worthwhile to accept a ride or not. 

Podcast: A level playing field via access to data: Interview with James Farrar

Martijn Arets from Wage Indicator speaks to trade union leader and workers' data rights campaigner James Farrar in this Gig Work podcast. 
Struggle for recognition, a lever to establish Industrial Relations from below. Reinterpreting couriers’ mobilisations in food deliverysector in Italy

Nicola Quondamatteo and Marco Marrone conceptualise the cycle of struggles in Italy's food delivery sector.

Upcoming events

- A University of Innsbruck research project on the reactions and behaviours of gig workers towards algorithmic management is looking for food delivery couriers to interview. The interviews are compensated. Click here fo details.

- Worker Info Exchange and the App Drivers & Couriers Union is organising a protest against unfair dismissals at Just Eat. The demonstration will take place on Tuesday 26th of September, 2pm at Fleet Place House, 2 Fleet Place, London. Click here for full details.

- The WE-TRANSFORM project is hosting a conference in Turin, Italy on 'a policy agenda for workers transition in automated and digital transport services', 27-28 September. Click here for full details and to register. 

- The second IE Lawtomation Days conference will take place 28-29 September in Madrid at IE Tower, and will look at 'the shifting legal landscape of automated decision-making and artificial intelligence'. Click here for details and to register.

- The next 'trilogue' negotiations over the EU Platform Work Directive will be held on 3 October.

- INDL-6, the sixth annual conference of the International Network on Digital Labor, is hosting a conference in Berlin on 'Digital Labor in wake of pandemic times', 9-11 October. The conference is open to all and free to register. Click here for full details.

-  COST Action P-WILL is holding a seminar on 'Towards a fairer platform work: Policy processes and social demands', in Milan, Friday 13 October. You can join in person or online and it's free registration. Click here for full details.

- WageIndicator is hosting an online conference on 'A Level Playing Field for Gig Workers', 27 October. Click here for full details and to register.

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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