Uber’s White Paper needs a rewrite: platform workers are employees!

19 Feb 2021

Uber’s recently published “Better Deal” White Paper gets two things right: independent workers across Europe deserve better, and Europe needs more jobs. On everything else, however, Uber completely misses the point. Uber’s workers aren’t independent. Today’s decision of the UK Supreme Court confirms it clearly enough.

We believe that there is no need to reinvent the wheel – existing labour laws already allow for flexibility regarding working time; these laws also prescribe minimum wages. With the employee status, the workers should have access to all the benefits that Uber wishes to provide to their workers.

Admittedly, Europe needs more jobs, but the conditions of these jobs need to be better. Having to work 50, 60 or more hours per week to make a living wage – which is often the case for Uber workers – has a serious impact on workers’ wellbeing and social relations. It also has consequences for road safety – long working hours lead to driver’s fatigue that is dangerous for other road users.

Another point Uber conveniently forgets to address is their algorithmic management which severely reduces their workers’ autonomy and doesn’t allow them to set prices. The company also reserves the right to deactivate accounts without warning, and without taking worker’s voice into account. The flexibility that Uber keeps on pushing means nothing if workers are left without income from one day to another.

This goes against Uber’s claim that it welcomes workers’ input, and that it also talks to other social representatives. There is a track record of Uber’s refusals to engage in discussions with trade unions, and internal surveys and discussions cannot be equated with formal social dialogue. Such dialogue should also be representative – while for example the agreement in Italy with the right-wing General Labour Union, mentioned in the paper, clearly does not fulfil this criterium and has been considered invalid by the Italian Ministry of Labour.

The European social contract assumes that employers accept their responsibilities towards society. Unfortunately, we cannot see this in Uber’s approach. For example, spending millions of dollars on a campaign against workers’ rights in California cannot be treated as a way to improve the wellbeing of any society.

In this context, the demand that is made in Uber’s paper to expand social protection to all workers cannot be treated as anything other than Uber’s attempt to have its cake and eat it too. ETF believes in turn that one should not tell others what to do if they do not want to contribute to the pot themselves. The paper mentions new labour regulations in India, with the platform’s financial contribution to the social security fund of 1 to 2 % of service fees excluding federal taxes. This figure is much lower than European standards and cannot be treated as a serious proposal.

‘Today’s court decision in the UK is further proof that Uber’s alleged competitiveness is based on workers’ abuse. Uber must rethink their vision paper if they want us to believe in their commitment to improving platform workers’ rights.’ stated Frank Moreels, ETF President.

In light of the upcoming EU initiative on platform workers, the ETF will continue advocating fair working conditions for thousands of drivers and riders across Europe. It is high time to reverse the Uberisation of our workplaces!