First impressions on the possible agreement of the European trilogue on the platform work directive. The fight goes on
Since our birth in 2017, we at Riders x Rights have openly fought against labour fraud through the use of bogus freelancers, or illegal assignment, characteristic of the so-called platform economy. We have fought against the uberisation model championed by the «be your own boss» discourse and against the multi-millionaire lobbies that seek to change the laws of each country to adapt them to their nonsense, as demonstrated by the «Uber papers» scandal.
On 1 June 2020, RxD representatives from all over Spain held a meeting with the Ministry of Labour and Social Economy in which we conveyed our demands to Minister Yolanda Díaz. Among these demands, we made special emphasis on the fact that it was not just about riders, as we are just the tip of the iceberg, the guinea pig of a model that has been expanding to more and more types of work. In particular, it has been conquering the most precarious jobs: cleaners, home improvement workers, private drivers, delivery drivers, and a long etcetera. But not only the most precarious jobs, we have also quickly seen the emergence of platforms for professional jobs, such as teachers and psychologists. We also drew attention to the creation of an algorithmic observatory with the capacity to control the abuses of algorithmic management in the pressure for productivity by means of punishment and reward mechanisms, among other things.
This meeting was followed by the negotiation table with the majority unions and employers, which resulted in the future rider law. During these negotiations, we spoke out strongly on the issue of a «rider» law: if it was a question of changing the law, it should in any case go beyond the riders in terms of the presumption of employment, including all other jobs. In the end, it was a rider law, focused on just one group, which is why we wrote the manifesto «An insufficient step, little to celebrate«. Even so, we celebrated at the time the obligation for companies to account for the parameters that control work, known as the «opening of the algorithm», which, years later, and as far as we know, has not been satisfactorily implemented.
Yesterday we received with surprise and disbelief, as if it were April Fool’s Day, the news of the new trilogue agreement on the platform work directive which establishes the presumption of employment for platform workers, regardless of what work they do, and that the burden of proof lies with the companies…. In short, it is the companies that have to prove that the workers are self-employed, according to the laws of each country. Quite the opposite of what has happened up to now, where each worker has had to report individually, or under macro lawsuits, as a result of labour inspections. In this sense, the platform directive learns from the shortcomings of the rider law and does not limit itself to a single group.
The platforms directive also seems to account for algorithmic transparency: it obliges platforms to report how algorithms work and «how a worker’s behaviour affects decisions taken by automated systems», along the lines of the amendment of article 64 within the rider law. But it goes further in the field of data protection, «Platforms will be forbidden to process certain types of personal data, such as on personal beliefs and private exchanges with colleagues». This additional step was probably taken in response to the scandal uncovered by Reversing Works, in which it was shown that Glovo spies on its workers, even when they are not using the app, and that they sell the data to third parties without their consent.
Finally, in the field of information, this agreement obliges companies to report how many people they work with. Incredible as it may seem, at least in Spain, we have always been guided by estimates of how many workers there are, without knowing such basic data directly from the company.
However, we must be careful, as this proposal entails certain problems:
- It falls back on the legislation of each country, which opens the door to multi-millionaire lobbies to influence and bring about legislative changes in their favour, as they have already achieved in France. The fight goes on.
- The biggest companies such as Uber, Uber Eats, Deliveroo or Delivery Hero spend large amounts of resources to endure legal proceedings, falling into a shameful impunity, such as Glovo and Uber Eats in Spain, which, despite the rider law, continue to do their business. The current agreement does not seem to establish any punishment for this type of practice, when, given what has been seen, the judicial systems of each country do not seem to be sufficient, as in the case of Spain.
- Last but not least. Many of these companies, especially the delivery companies, have grown exponentially thanks to the abuse of the labour of desperate people in an irregular situation. We believe that it is the duty of legislators to force companies to initiate regularisation routes for these people who have come to lose their lives to deliver an order, as in the case of Pujan in Barcelona in 2019 and Nestor in Madrid in 2021, among many others around the world.
Thus, we applaud the long-awaited presumption of labour and algorithmic management, but remain wary of the next steps of companies on legislation in each country, and remain critical of the lack of regulation on the impunity of companies and the neglect of the most precarious links in the chain, undocumented people who sublet accounts.
Finally, these preliminary reactions come from the little information provided by the Parliament in its press release. It remains to be seen what the final text will be and what will be understood in this regulation about what digital platforms are, whether they are only service platforms (will youtube or clickworkers be included?).
THE FIGHT GOES ON