‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ 
Is this email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser.
Image description

Labour law academics Antonio Aloisi and Valerio de Stefano have perhaps put it best by describing the EU Commission's platform work directive, announced on Thursday [9 December], as the curtain call for "platform exceptionalism". Digital labour platforms had been hoodwinking regulators for years that this was "the collaborative company" offering "peer-to-peer" opportunities for "entrepreneurs". In reality, 21st century technology was being used to disguise 19th century labour standards, as platforms got all the benefits of labour exploitation with very few of the costs or risks. As the European Trade Union Confederation's Ludovic Voet put it, the Directive "simply ensures workers will now access rights, like paid holiday and sick pay, which have been standard for other workers for the best part of a century".

Despite the modesty of what has been achieved, the political significance is huge. As Leïla Chaibi MEP, who has led the campaign in 'The Left in the European Parliament' for this Directive, said following the announcement, "it’s not very usual that a social victory comes from the European Commission, so I think it is very historic.” Liva Spera of the European Transport Federation expressed a similar sentiment, stating: "In the last decade it is probably one of the few EU Commission proposals that have listened to what trade unions have said." The fact that the EU Commission has gone well beyond any member-state so far with this regulatory proposal is testament to the fact that this is a remarkable achievement, even when accounting for the fact that there are significant flaws in the Directive, as numerous academics have pointed out. The obvious question to ask is, why did it happen?

First, it's important to pay tribute to the significant efforts of the platform workers movement internationally over recent years, without which this issue wouldn't have even been up for debate in the EU. The October international mobilisation of platform workers in Brussels, where workers from as far away as Argentina and Ecuador addressed EU Commissioner Nicolas Schmit directly, was also important. 

"When they had the opportunity to talk with commissioner Schmit, it was important to say not only is Uber watching you, so are workers," Chaibi said.

But if we are honest, platform worker pressure probably would not have achieved this result alone if it were not for the divisions within Europe's capitalist class about how to respond to the emergence of platform capitalism. Digital labour platforms do not represent the whole of the business class, many of whom are not happy that they operate at a distinct disadvantage to platforms as they still have to pay minimum wage, pensions, social security, holiday pay, and so forth. 

That explains why Schmit was keen to emphasise at the press conference announcing the Directive that "there’s also an economic argument about ensuring a level playing field: why should some companies not have to meet the same social standards as companies they are competing against outside the platform economy?" Schmit went on to state that a "pandora's box" could be opened up of regulatory arbitrage across European capitalism, with platforms becoming a trail-blazer for deregulation, if this Directive was not introduced. Chaibi has said these arguments were also important to winning over conservative and liberal MEPs to uniting behind the left's position in the European Parliament, with a broad and big majority in Strasbourg also adding to the pressure on the Commission to deliver.

And when asked by a journalist about a criticism of the Directive from Business Europe, the biggest lobbyist for capital in Brussels, Schmit responded: "This brings a level playing field, which is exactly what they asked for." Similar divisions were crucial to the Spanish Employer's Association (CEOE) deciding to support the Spanish Government's 'Riders Law', a decision which led Glovo, Spain's biggest food delivery platform, to leave CEOE and set-up a rival group. This divide between old and new sections of capital will only intensify as platformisation becomes normalised. 

We should not expect the likes of Uber and Glovo to go quietly into the night following this announcement. They will fight tooth and nail to water down the Directive through the EU Council, where they have a supporter in Emmanuel Macron as President of the Council in 2022. We are now entering a new terrain of struggle, where the balance of power will still be weighted against platform workers. Nonetheless, this Directive is undoubtedly a significant victory, one that all workers should cherish and build on.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator


BRAVE NEW EUROPE, the host of the Gig Economy Project, has launched a fundraiser to sustain the site. 

BRAVE NEW EUROPE'S mission is to provide political education which runs counter to neoliberal orthodoxy, and shows alternative paths forward. We don’t believe there is another website in Europe that is playing the same role, so if it was gone tomorrow it would be missed.

But the website is currently running on less than a shoe-string, and the only way it will continue is if readers back the site financially. BRAVE NEW EUROPE is looking to raise 1,500 Euros a month to cover its costs. That’s 150 people giving 10 euros a month, or 300 giving 5 euros a month. It's not a lot. 

If you can help the site out, visit: https://braveneweurope.com/donate.

Image description

Gig Economy news round-up

  • UBER MAY FORCE CONSUMERS TO PAY VAT COSTS IN THE UK: Following Uber's defeat in London's High Court on Monday (read more here), the US ridehail giant announced that it is considering charging its UK customers 20% VAT, after the judge ruled that private hire firms had to make contracts with their customers. The ruling, which backed up the Supreme Court's judgement in February that Uber drivers are workers not independent contractors, is set to affect all private hire operators in the UK. The ADCU union, which fought the court case against Uber, said the judgement would "transform the London minicab industry". Jolyon Maugham of the Good Law Project has estimated that Uber's VAT liabilities could be worth as much as £1.5 billion. Read more here.
  • GMB THREATENS COURT ACTION IF BOLT DOESN'T CHANGE BUSINESS MODEL: The GMB union in the UK, which has a formal recognition agreement with Uber, has warned Bolt, another private hire firm, that it will pursue court action against them if they do not begin to hire their drivers in the UK. Uber responded to the Supreme Court ruling in February by hiring its UK drivers, although it has refused to comply with the ruling in its totality. Bolt has ignored the ruling as the company claims it was specifically about Uber, despite the company sharing the same gig economy model, and recently announced a policy allowing its London drivers to set their own fares. But Bolt is now under pressure from the London High Court ruling this week, which applies to all private hire firms. Read more here.
  • BELGIAN COURT: DELIVEROO RIDERS ARE SELF-EMPLOYED: The Brussels Labour Court ruled on Wednesday [8 December] that Deliveroo riders are self-employed, after the Labour Inspectorate had asked for 115 riders to be re-qualified as employees. The Judge said the demand was "unfounded" as there is "no hierarchical relationship" between the riders and the company, a finding that is at odds with the majority of court verdicts in Europe on this issue, including over 50 in Spain. Deliveroo had previously said they would consider leaving Belgium if it became mandatory to hire riders as employees. Read more here.
  • TUC: DIRECTIVE WILL HELP "INFORM AND INSPIRE" UK PUSH FOR GIG REFORMS: The Trades Union Congress, which represents trade unions in the UK, has responded to the EU Commission's platform work directive by stating that it "will undoubtedly help to inform and inspire" union efforts in the UK to push for regulatory changes to improve the conditions of platform workers. The Directive will have no bearing on the UK following Britain leaving the European Union last year, but the TUC's Tim Sharp said "I think if workers in the European Union are seen to be gaining rights and having power, then workers here would expect the same.” The UK Government responded by defending the third 'limb b' status which currently exists in the UK between self-employed and employees, saying it "strikes the right balance". Read more here
  • ITALIAN SCHOLAR: ITALY SHOULD IMPLEMENT PRINCIPLES OF PLATFORM WORK DIRECTIVE NOW: Valeria Pulignano, an Italian scholar of unpaid work on digital labour platforms, has called on the Italian Government to "not stand still" waiting for the EU Commission's platform work directive to become law, and instead "act immediately". One media report has suggested it could be as late as 2025 before the platform directive is implemented by EU member-states, and Pulignano called on the Italian Government to "not wait for everything to come from above". The Italian Minister of Labour was one of five labour ministers to write to the Commission last week calling for a strong Directive. Read more here.
  • EMERGENCY DECREE ALLOWS UBER TO RESTART OPERATIONS IN BRUSSELS: Uber has said it is "relieved" after the Brussels regional government introduced an emergency decree which should allow the company to resume operations in the capital. The decree states that only drivers that prove they work for more than 20 hours a week are allowed to operate. Private hire firms must also hand over data about their operations in the city to operate. The decree comes after Uber announced it was ending operations in the city following a Brussels Court of Appeal verdict in November, which found that a cease and desist order on part of Uber's Brussels operations in 2015 should be widened to apply to all Uber services. Read more here.

Have we missed important news on the gig economy in Europe this week? E-mail Ben at [email protected] to help us improve our news round-up.

On GEP this week

Image description

EU Commission:  Employment status as default for platform workers

What you need to know about the platform work directive and the press conference announcement

Image description

Reaction to the platform work directive

Academics, politicians, unions and platforms react to the platform work directive.

Image description

Uber fails in "collateral attack" on Supreme Court ruling

Uber had sought to undermine a key part of the UK Supreme Court ruling in February, which found that the company’s drivers were workers.

From around the web

Image description

'Worker Data Science' can teach us how to fix the gig economy

Karen Gregory writes in 'Wired'  on 'worker data science', and how the struggle of gig workers to access algorithms has lessons for all workplaces.

Image description

'Fairwork' academics look at what regulatory change is required in the UK's platform economy.

Image description

EU Commission: Study to support the impact assessment on improving working conditions in platform work

The research behind the platform work directive impact assessments.

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 gig workers' rights.

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 [email protected] or send a direct message to the Twitter @project_gig.

And if you like the Gig Economy Project weekly newsletter, why not send the link to subscribe to a friend or colleague?

The Gig Economy Project is a Brave New Europe production. If you want to help GEP expand our work, visit BraveNewEurope.com to make a donation.

Facebook icon
Twitter icon
Instagram icon
If you want to unsubscribe, click here.
Powered by Sender.net