Sci-Tech

Uber also wants to slip through the cracks in Europe

Companies in the gig economy or small job economy try to do business directly with workers to avoid potential laws forcing them to treat them as workers. An agreement passed in Italy in September that preserves the independent status of drivers while increasing their hourly rate could become the model for companies in other European countries. These efforts, which are neither unique nor specific to Europe, follow a series of judgments that raise questions about the rights of delivery drivers.

For example, in the UK, Uber has appealed a ruling that drivers using its app are actually employees. The British decision thus gave self-employed people the right to social benefits such as paid vacation or insurance. According to Uber, such a change could lead to higher labor costs – costs the company couldn’t afford. In this winning logic, companies that employ delivery drivers fight against the rights of their own employees.

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Moreover, if the UK were the only country tending to condemn gig economy practices, little concern would arise. The problem is that European countries seem to have agreed to push for more workers’ rights in the gig economy. Another illustrative example: The Swiss courts recently forced Uber Eats to hire employees who are no longer self-employed in the Geneva area. A judicial will that is based on the demands of the drivers themselves, who regularly demand more rights and respect during strikes and demonstrations. In the Netherlands, several drivers this summer called on Uber to show how its application’s algorithms deal with drivers behind the scenes.

One might think that this dynamic will ultimately lead to a greater integration of benefits into the model of Uber and its competitors. One would think that at this time of a global pandemic where drivers have suffered greatly from the closings of restaurants and places to socialize, the proof is in making their lives easier and fulfilling their desires.

Instead, companies – Uber is only one of the leading ones – are campaigning for a recently signed labor agreement with a small right-wing union in Italy as an alternative to their professional workers’ legislation. In defense, Uber and its competitors point out higher costs, less flexibility with schedules, drivers’ desire to remain independent, and massive job losses. The typical example remains the Geneva case, where the court ruling resulted in the official recruitment of 300 employees while 1,000 others lost their jobs. To avoid such situations, but also to preserve its model based on illusory autonomy and flexibility, Uber is now defending this agreement reached in Italy in September, which it hopes can be a model for other European countries.

This agreement, which affects both Uber and Deliveroo or JustEat, is a beneficial compromise for businesses. It provides an hourly rate that is slightly above the minimum wage (10 euros per hour, in Italy at least 7 euros), avoiding social benefits such as paid leave or sick leave. The majority of the unions said the deal placed workers in a much worse position than if they were viewed as workers. However, it has been validated and is in force to this day.

Companies in the gig economy hope to find similar agreements elsewhere, particularly in France and Spain, where the demands of delivery drivers are sometimes high. In the coming weeks, the Spanish government could finalize its law on the economy of odd jobs, which would force companies to treat their workers as workers. The response is therefore ready and based on the model of the Italian Agreement, which aims to preserve the economic model of large platforms like Uber, with an emphasis on the precariousness and dependency of workers, but which depend on the concept of independence that they are have accompanied the job.

This phenomenon is strangely reminiscent of the case of Uber in California, who organized a referendum to circumvent the law after being forced to comply with the AB5 law during a trial. However, that California AB5 Act forced all car rental companies to consider their self-employed workers as employees, but the company didn’t like it. Massachusetts had quickly joined in, suing Uber and Lyft for seeing their drivers. Uber and Lyft had won their case in California after a campaign to support the referendum at a staggering cost and tampering with their application, according to drivers. A specialty in evading laws that you may wish to exercise on European soil.

This referendum acts like the Italian agreement of September with a whole series of rights and advantages for employees in return for minimal concessions. However, the agreement in Italy goes a little further than the California referendum in that it provides collective bargaining for the self-employed. But is that enough? The argument of “flexibility” put forward by Uber, Deliveroo or Glovo has so far been well documented, dismantled and proven to be illusory. The working conditions of the deliverers are just as important and clearly show the urgency of a model change. In a dilemma between performance, efficiency and social protection, labor law rhymes with mass layoffs for the big platforms of the gig economy. A reality that is not binary, however, so badly do delivery workers want to do away with the independence and flexibility that come from the job they do, but rather the practices and the lack of consideration that accompany them.

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