Workers in Europe’s gig economy are resisting labour exploitation and market deregulation with increasing success, a study commissioned by the Left group in the European Parliament has found.
Workers won 35 out of 59 court cases in eight EU member states demanding recognition of their status as employees of corporations like Uber and Deliveroo.
Online platforms have fought to maintain riders under false self-employment, denying them basic rights like working hours, annual leave and social security payments, while exercising significant control over their labour through use of advanced algorithms.
The study launched today also found that trade unions have increasingly taken on the cause of gig economy workers alongside emerging grassroots mobilisations outside the traditional structures. Between 2016 and 2017 there was a wave of some 40 strikes in 15 countries across Europe in the bicycle meal delivery sector in response to cuts in service rates. Many of the protests were coordinated transnationally.
The study authors, Anne Dufresne and Cédric Leterme, warn against the creation of a third status for platform workers, highlighting the importance of court victories particularly in Spain, in light of the Digital Services Act and the prospect of a Commission Directive to regulate labour in the gig economy.
MEP Leïla Chaibi (France Insoumise, France) welcomed the study while considering the findings ominous for the Commission:
“This study provides The Left with the right tools to pursue our work in the European Parliament in defence of platform workers and their rights. The findings show that the battle for the status of platform workers is seminal. As part of my work in the European Parliament Employment and Social Affairs Committee (EMPL), I am committed to ensure that platform workers have the same rights and work conditions as other workers.
“By presenting themselves as intermediary platforms rather than as employers, online platforms like Uber or Deliveroo knowingly defraud labor law and create a strong legal uncertainty at the expense of workers. Finding themselves in this system of exploitation, platform workers are appealing for urgent action to defend their rights and to ensure dignified working conditions.
“Drawing on my own activist background, I found the analysis of the complementarity of traditional and new forms of collective actions adopted by platform workers to achieve their goals very interesting. This should inspire us as workers’ advocates. Strikes are done by “switching-off” from the apps, occupation can be done traditionally in the headquarters of the companies but also by obstructing restaurants or “dark kitchens”.
“Platform work emerged stealthily as part of a broader deregulation of work conditions. As described by the study, when judges face platforms, they very often side with the workers by reclassifying their status to employees with full rights under the law. Their decisions indicate to us that we are heading in the right direction: the nature of the relation between digital platforms and riders and drivers must change with legislation that grants them the same rights as any other workers,” Chaibi concluded.