Uber and Deliveroo workers will be reclassified as employees, trade unions say

The employment status of workers in the gig economy is at the centre of a new directive of the European Commission. [Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock]

This article was updated with a correction on Deliveroo’s ranking system and usage of branded bags.

The workers of some of the most prominent platform companies in Europe would qualify as employees under the EU’s new platform worker proposal, according to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC).

In December, the European Commission presented a directive aimed at improving the working conditions for platform workers. At the heart of the proposal is the so-called ‘rebuttable presumption’, which would reverse the burden of proof on the platforms regarding the employment status of their workers.

Based on the initial draft, platforms that meet two out of the five pre-set criteria will have their workers automatically reclassified from self-employed to employees. The Commission estimates around 4 million people will see their employment status changed.

“Platform companies will be working hard and spending big to try to cheat the tests set for them by the EU and maintain their business model based on exploitation,” said ETUC confederal secretary Ludovic Voet.

Uber, Glovo, Deliveroo, Amazon Mechanical Turk, and Cuideo would all fail the ‘self-employment test’, according to the trade union representatives. These platforms were selected to give a representative view of the platform economy.

“It’s premature and inappropriate to speculate on how the Commission’s proposal would impact different business models, not least because there is significant room for change between what’s on the table today and the final transposition by member states,” a spokesperson of Delivery Platforms Europe told EURACTIV.

EU launches bid to regulate gig economy

The EU executive has tabled a long-waited rulebook for the gig economy at a time when the business model of these companies is leading to contradicting court decisions across the bloc.

The draft criteria include determining or limiting remuneration; requiring specific appearance rules such as uniforms; supervising workers’ performance, restricting the freedom of choosing one’s working schedule; and restricting the possibility of building one’s client base.

ETUC considers mobility titan Uber fits four of the five criteria. In terms of remuneration, the mobility app automatically calculates the fare, which can vary only marginally based on the chosen route. Workers are bound by non-negotiable conditions, which Uber can unilaterally change.

Drivers are assessed via a customer rating system, with a higher status resulting in significant financial benefits. Conversely, low ratings can lead to the removal from the app.

For the unions, Uber only provides a limited amount of data when offering a ride, preventing drivers from only accepting the rides that are more convenient for them. The algorithm management also limits how the drivers decide to organise their own time, and refusing work can be penalised.

However, Uber drivers can establish a direct relationship with the customer and arrange for off-app transactions. For the unions, that is not the case for food delivery giant Deliveroo, which would meet all criteria based on the findings of several court cases.

A judgement issued in Barcelona in November 2020 found that riders were not informed about the final address and, therefore, the remuneration of the ride. The verdict also found that in case of refusal, the minimum amount of orders could not be guaranteed; hence the working relationship could also be terminated.

Deliveroo challenges the assertion that riders are not free to refuse offers, saying rejections are not considered in future work allocations.

However, a judicial ruling in Bologna in January 2021 found that workers’ performance was being assessed via a ranking system that was found to be discriminatory as it automatically downgraded workers that had been absent for reasons ranging from health problems to joining a strike.

“This analysis is incorrect and misleading. Courts in European Member States in which Deliveroo operates have repeatedly confirmed that Deliveroo riders are self-employed, including as recently as last December in Belgium,” a Deliveroo spokesperson told EURACTIV.

The food delivery company contends since these rulings it has changed the way it operates and no longer ranks the riders. Moreover, the riders are free not to use branded bags.

The unions argue that the platform’s terms and conditions require riders to behave according to a specific code of conduct.

Deliveroo wins court battle on riders' status in Belgium

Deliveroo riders in Belgium cannot be requalified as employees with contracts heaping social security and tax obligations on the company, a Belgian court ruled on Wednesday (8 December).

After approval of a ‘Rider Law’ in Spain that included the rebuttable presumption, Deliveroo decided to exit the Spanish market. Competing app Glovo became the main delivery app as a result.

Glovo changed how it rounds its operations to avoid falling under the Rider Law from a fixed system to one auction-based, where workers can bid and the work is generally awarded for the lowest price. For ETUC, the system remains entirely in the platform’s hands as the workers cannot negotiate higher remuneration.

The platform also instructs the riders on how to provide the service, and monitors compliance.

The scoring system is negatively affected if the worker is not available during periods with the highest demand, decreasing the possibility of receiving future work. Similarly to Deliveroo, the unions note that Glovo’s workers cannot enter a relationship with the restaurant and customers they are serving.

A representative from Glovo was not available to comment at the time of publication.

ETUC also analysed the working conditions of Amazon Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing marketplace for IT developers, and Cuideo, a platform for caregivers, reaching similar conclusions.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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