Sunday

13th Jun 2021

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Open Letter: Uber must recognise its workers

  • Uber states that drivers and riders are not their employees, calling them 'independent workers' (Photo: The Left)

Dear Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber CEO,

I had the opportunity to read the White Paper you've submitted to the European Commission titled "A Better Deal" for platform workers.

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  • MEP Leïla Chaibi: 'We will not let Uber buy its way into changing EU laws to suit its interests. The European Commission will present a directive on platform workers by the end of the year' (Photo: The Left in the European Parliament)

Apparently, you share the sense of urgency on the need to improve the conditions of Uber drivers and riders, who work under your watch in precarious conditions, without social security, without health & safety protections, circumstances made worse during the pandemic.

The timing of your paper is not coincidental, as, today, the European Commission launches a consultation on "improving the working conditions of platform workers".

We were watching when, last November, Uber clubbed together with other digital platforms and spent millions to push Proposition 22 in California, classifying gig economy workers as "independent contractors" rather than employees.

In your paper you reiterate that Uber drivers and riders are not your employees, calling them "independent workers".

However, in two out of every three court cases throughout Europe judges have ruled the opposite: that they have the false status of self-employed and are subordinated to your corporation.

Consequently, you should have assumed your responsibilities as an employer by, for example, paying for their social security and granting them the rights stipulated under labour law, such as working hours, rest times, sick leave and so on.

In France, where I am from, the Court of Cassation decided along the same lines in March 2020.The self-employed status of Uber drivers was ruled artificial and illegal.

Despite these defeats, you continue to insist that your drivers and riders are self-employed.

The truth is that they are only self-employed in name. Uber sets the rates. Uber decides, through a secretive algorithm, which jobs to assign to which drivers, depending on the types of requests they have previously accepted or refused. Uber decides unilaterally to penalise drivers by "deactivating" (or firing) them.

There is a clear employer-employee power relationship between Uber and Uber Eats and its drivers but, unlike others, they are denied workers' rights earned through decades of struggle.

You want to have your cake and eat it. You want workers at your beck and call without being responsible for them. Rather than complying with labour laws in EU member states you want them to bend their laws to your interests.

When courts everywhere rule that you are acting illegally, your plan is to legalise the situation by inventing a "third status". Not self-employed, nor employed.

Instead, this third status would award you all the advantages of these two existing statuses, legally.

The worker, on the other hand, would have to bear the disadvantages of being an employee and the disadvantages of being self-employed.

Riders, on the other hand, have different requests. They would like to carry out their professional activity under the protection of employee status, with the guarantee of paid holidays, a minimum wage and health insurance, even if that means following your orders.

To justify the impossibility of shouldering your responsibilities as an employer, your pretext is that your business model is incompatible.

However, Just Eat recently proved the opposite, announcing that they would hire 4,500 riders on permanent contracts during 2021.

You often mention France as an example. It's true that you were able to count on Emmanuel Macron as one of your most stellar sales representatives for a while. Well, it turns out that even your most faithful ally has rejected the possibility of an alternative status.

An expert committee mandated by the prime minister concluded that your proposal was ineffective, inefficient and inadequate as a response to this challenge.

We do not want your third status anywhere in Europe. If it were to see the light of day, the effects would be devastating for the whole of the labour market, not just digital platform workers.

Any employer could use it to replace employees, who are currently protected by labour laws and benefit from social security, with the new type of contract that you suggest.

We will not let Uber buy its way into changing EU laws to suit its interests. The European Commission will present a directive on platform workers by the end of the year.

I hope they do so in the public interest, that they listen to the voices of workers and not bow to your lobbying pressures.

I have presented a proposal for a directive that lays out the core principles The Left fights for alongside platform workers: we don't want third status. Uber needs to assume its responsibilities as an employer.

This is the message being sent by riders and drivers protesting all over Europe today at the European Commission's representations. Their slogan? "Gig workers are employees – not contractors without rights".

I will be by their side.

Uber & Deliveroo and bogus self-employment: what about worker's rights?

Author bio

Leïla Chaibi is a French MEP with The Left group, representing the France Insoumise movement.

Disclaimer

This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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