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In every corner of the globe, platform workers' protest

The "first global analysis of platform worker unrest" has been published. 'Platform labour unrest in a global perspective: How, where and why do platform workers protest?' is authored by Simon Joyce, Vera Trappmann, Mark Stuart and Charles Umney, who are all part of the University of Leeds' Index of Platform Labour Protest.

The research is based on the identification of 1721 instances of platform labour unrest worldwide, sourced mainly from news reporting, between January 2017 and August 2020, covering ridehail and food/grocery/courier delivery.

Three questions are posed: "What are the most prominent motives for platform labour unrest? What actors and tactics are involved in platform labour unrest? How does this unrest vary across regional contexts?"

The study finds that 29.8% of protests were in Europe, 27.3% in Asia, 18.9% in Latin America,  16% in North America, 5% in Africa and 2.8% in Australia and New Zealand. The majority were in delivery, with 43.2% in ride-hail. 

In terms of protest tactics, 38% involved collective withdrawal of labour, 36% demonstrations and 15.8% legal actions. The use of lawsuits had a wide variation across regions, making up just 4.7%, 8.8% and 2.3% of protests in Africa, Latin America and Asia respectively, whereas it represented 38.3% of actions in North America, 34.3% in Australia/New Zealand and 21.3% in Europe. Most of these protests were of a small size, with just 40 cases of labour withdrawals and seven legal cases involving over 1,000 workers.

In terms of the actors involved, a huge 79.7 per cent of protest events involved informal groups. Mainstream unions were involved in 20%, workers' collectives 20.4% and grassroots unions 13.1%. Again, here there is significant differences by region. In China, informal groups were involved in 87.2% of protests, whereas in Europe mainstream unions were involved 34.8% of the time. Somewhat disappointingly, there were just 32 cases of grassroots unions and mainstream unions protesting together.

As for why platform workers' protest, pay was the dominant factor, accounting for 63.4% of cases. Employment status accounted for 20.2%, health & safety 19.1% and demanding union representation 5.6%. There were very few cases of worker protests over algorithmic control in any region. Again, regional variations tended towards a global north plus Australia/New Zealand v global south divide, with protests over employment status ranging from 40% in Australia/New Zealand to just 4.7% in Africa. However, pay was the main form of protest in every region. 

Overall, the authors find a clear demarcation between "regulatory protests" , over issues like employment status and health & safety, and "distributive protests", over pay, working hours and costs. Regulatory protests were generally organised by established trade unions, were more likely to involve legal actions, were more typical in ride-hail than delivery, and were more common in the global north than the global south. "Distributive protests" tended to be organised from the grassroots by informal actors,  were more likely to involve collective withdrawals, and were more common in the global south than the global north.

The authors argue that the predominance of pay as the chief concern of platform work protest cuts against general trends in the global economy towards strikes which are more explicitly political and less focused on "bread-and-butter industrial concerns". This should cause researchers to reflect as well, the authors' find, as pay is "less prominent" in the current platform work academic literature compared to "casualisation, employment status and algorithmic control".

"It is necessary to caution against over-emphasising the novelty of the platform sector as featuring a distinct set of problems and motivations for protest," they conclude. 

In a sense, that should be obvious: workers, especially those in low-paid jobs, are always likely to be most concerned with getting enough money to cover their costs. But while pay is the focal point, that does not mean that the barriers to getting decent pay do not have their own unique challenges in the gig economy. For instance, it makes little sense to think about pay and algorithmic control as discrete issues, since pay rates per task are organised algorithmically, often in ways that are deliberately obscure to the driver or the rider. 

It's also logical that employment status is a more prevalent protest demand in the global north compared to the global south, due to the stronger expectation of social security benefits tied to a job contract in the former. That doesn't necessarily indicate any less concern about pay in the global north, it may just imply a difference in how demands are focused (towards government more than platforms). Certainly, established unions in Europe argue that employment status is the most effective route in the long-term to higher pay for gig workers.

The most important finding of this research is a very simple one: everywhere where there is platform work, workers' protest and strike. As the authors' note at the start of the study, many believed "that the growth of platform organisations would render worker contestation impossible": this research proves that is emphatically not the case. It's with these protests in all corners of the globe that hope lies.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • PARLIAMENT RAPPORTEUR SHIFTS POSITION IN PLATFORM WORK DIRECTIVE NEGOTIATION: The latest trilogue negotiation on the EU Platform Work Directive on Tuesday [3 October] failed to find a breakthrough, but it has been reported that it saw a significant shift in position from the leader of the European Parliament side of the negotiations, Elisabetta Gualmini MEP. According to a report by Agence Europe, the Social Democratic rapporteur put forward a new proposal on the critical question of the presumption of employment, which would see criteria to trigger the presumption put into the final text of the Directive. The European Parliament voted for a general presumption of employment, along the lines of Spain's 'Rider Law', but the Council, which represents the member-states, took the opposite view, proposing to have seven criteria with three necessary to trigger the presumption. The details of Gualmini's shift in the direction of the Council are unknown, but it was not accepted by Council negotiators. However there is thought to be increased optimism of a deal being reached now, with one source telling Agence Europe that Gualmini's shift was "an important step". Gualmini's new proposal is not backed by The Left and the Greens' parliamentary groups, however these two groups only command 15% of MEPs and thus would unlikely to defeat the proposal if it reached the point of a ratification vote in the Parliament. Click here to read more.
  • UBER ORDERED TO PAY €584,000 FOR FAILING TO REVEAL AUTOMATED DECISION-MAKING INFO: The District Court of Amsterdam ruled on Thursday [5 October] that Uber failed to comply with a Court of Appeal order in April to provide meaningful information about their automated decision-making. The order related to the automated decision to fire two of its drivers in the UK and Portugal, in a case brought forward by the App Drivers & Couriers Union and Worker Info Exchange (WIE). For breaching the order, Uber has to pay penalty payments of €4,000 per day, which now stands at €584,000 and counting. The Court found that Uber had failed to provide information on "the profiling used, the factors used in the decision making and the logic used in the algorithmic decision to fire the drivers," WIE wrote in a press statement after the verdict. Uber had argued that to provide additional information would breach its security and trade secrets, which the Judge considered to be an attempt to relitigate the case. The Judge stated: "It cannot be said that the failure to comply with the order is not serious…It may also be the case that Uber is deliberately trying to withhold certain information because it does not want to give an insight into its business and revenue model." James Farrar, director of Worker Info Exchange, said after the verdict: "Whether it is the UK Supreme Court for worker rights or the Netherlands Court of Appeal for data protection rights, Uber habitually flouts the law and defies the orders of even the most senior courts." Click here to read more.
  • AMSTERDAM APPEAL COURT FINDS UBER EMPLOYS ITS DRIVERS IN INTERIM RULING: The Amsterdam Court of Appeal gave an interim ruling over the employment status of Uber drivers in the Netherlands on Tuesday [3 October], finding that they are employees. The Court found that drivers could be self-employed for other companies while being employed by Uber, and is seeking advise from the Supreme Court about the significance of that for interpreting drivers' contracts' with Uber. The case was brought forward by the FNV union, who's vice-chairman, Zakaria Boufangacha, responded to the verdict by stating: "We are happy with the steps that the court has now taken. The court finds in our favour on almost all points and concludes that the drivers are employees. If that is the conclusion, Uber must apply the collective labour agreement. We regret that there has not yet been a final ruling, but we understand that the court is now asking questions to the Supreme Court." The Dutch Supreme Court found in 2021 that Deliveroo riders are employees. Read more here.
  • FOOD AND GROCERY DELIVERY BOSSES LOSE BILLIONAIRE STATUS: Four of six food and grocery delivery bosses in Europe and North America who became billionaires when their platforms took-off have now lost that status, after valuations slumped. Analysis by Bloomberg finds that the combined losses total $15 billion. Topping the list is Jitse Groen, founder and CEO of Just Eat Takeaway, Europe's largest food delivery platform. Groen was worth almost $2 billion at Just Eat's peak valuation in October 2020, but has now lost 86.1% of that wealth as the company's share price fell sharply due to the easing of the pandemic and inflation-related demand pressures. His personal wealth is currently valued at $274 million. Groen said in July that orders remain sensitive to Covid-19, with orders rising as Covid cases have returned in significant numbers to Europe in recent weeks. The second biggest fall was Getir founder and CEO Nazim Salur, who has seen his personal wealth drop 84.7% from its peak in March 2022, when the company was valued at $13 billion. In its latest funding round, Getir was valued at $2.5 billion, with Salur's net worth falling from a massive $5 billion to $775 million. Instacart and DoorDash executives make up the rest of the top five who have seen signficant drops in their personal wealth, with Bloomberg reporting that similar sharp reductions in food and grocery delivery company valuations have been seen in India and China. Read more here.
  • SPANISH GOVERNMENT TO MOVE AHEAD WITH FAKE SELF-EMPLOYMENT CRIMINAL PROSECUTION: The Spanish Government's Ministry of Labour has confirmed to '' that it will move ahead with a criminal prosecution against Glovo and Uber Eats for false self-employment. "In the coming days the request will be transferred to the Prosecutor's Office to act in application of the reform of article 311 of the Penal Code and consider whether possible crimes are incurred and to whom they are attributed," a source told the website. The Spanish Government changed the Penal Code last year to make false self-employment a criminal offense, meaning executives of food delivery platforms could face fines and/or prison sentences for refusing to employ its riders. Glovo refused to employ its riders despite the passing of the Rider Law in 2021. Uber Eats moved its riders on to employment contracts via sub-contractors after the Rider Law was passed, before opening up its app to freelancers again in August 2022, after complaining that it was at a competitive disadvantage due to the government's failure to enforce the law in relation to its rival, Glovo. Two weeks ago, the Observatory of Work, Algorithms & Society, a coalition of taxi drivers and riders, announced that it had launched a criminal complaint to the courts against both Glovo and Uber Eats, and this week it was confirmed that the central investigative court would process the request against Uber Eats. Read more here.

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This week by the Gig Economy Project

Los riders sin papeles: Migrants tell their story from undocumented food delivery couriers to trade union organisers

How do undocumented workers make a living in the food delivery sector? How can trade unions recruit migrant gig workers and ensure decent working conditions for all riders? The Gig Economy Project spoke to Paola and Frank, Venezuelan migrants who have worked for food delivery platforms in Spain without work permits and are now union activists, at a trade union conference on the platform economy in Madrid to find out.
Carlos Rodríguez: Why we fight together for the taxi and the rider

Carlos Rodríguez, vice-president of Taxi Project 2.0, a think tank in favour of the taxi sector in Spain and against Uberisation, writes for the Gig Economy Project about his battles at regional, national and European level, and why fighting alongside riders remains a top priority.

Puedes leer en Español aquí.
From around the web
Digital "Platforms" Are Just a New Way for Corporations to Exploit Workers

Vitor Filgueiras and Veena Dubal challenge "the platform mythology" in Jacobin, arguing that platforms are simply digital machines which companies use as tools of exploitation.

The riders of Europe meet

Italian researcher and author Nicola Quondamatteo gives his reflections in Jacobin Italia on the European Trade Union Confederation's platform work conference in Madrid last week. 
What happens when nurses are hired like Ubers

Colin Lecher writes in The Markup on the rise of Clipboard and ShiftKey in the US, digital labour platforms which have been dubbed 'Uber for nursing'.

Upcoming events

- 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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