May 24. 2024. 5:32

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French MPs open up debate over platform workers’ status


A French parliamentary ‘Uber Files’ investigative committee aims to shine a light on Uber’s lobbying practices in the French government and the reality of the economy’s ‘uberisation’, while workers’ representatives want to do away with self-employment and push for general reclassification.

In July 2022, the ‘Uber Files’ investigation, led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), revealed how Emmanuel Macron – then Economy minister -had given behind-the-scene support to Uber’s implementation in the French market between 2014 and 2016, in contradiction with the then-government’s pro-taxi stance.

“The confidentiality and intensity of Uber and Macron’s relationship reveal persistent weaknesses in our ability to measure the influence of private interests on public decision-making,” the parliamentary resolution, which calls for the creation of an investigation, reads.

The Committee, formally created on 24 January and holding a second round of hearings on Thursday (2 March), seeks to investigate the depth of the ties between Uber and Macron’s former office.

Far-left MP Danielle Simonnet, who tabled the motion for the creation of the Committee, also wants to explore the reality of generalised self-employment in the platform economy, which she claims brings “instability to the taxi market, undermines workers’ rights to social protection and impoverishes the State”.

She said that ‘bogus self-employment’ must be done away with and called for general reclassification of workers.

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The Swedish presidency of the EU Council of ministers is circling back to a fundamental aspect of the Platform Workers’ Directive after the previous presidency fell short of securing a majority.

Ending ‘social dumping’

As the Committee’s second wave of hearings gets underway, several worker representatives told EURACTIV France that workers’ status is at the heart of their concerns.

“Self-employment is a race to the bottom,” Ludovic Rioux, delivery workers’ representative for the far-left CGT union, told EURACTIV. He accused the government and platforms of working hand in hand to “generalise” self-employment – to the detriment of workers.

It’s about ending ‘social dumping’, drivers’ representative Yassine Bensaci added, so platforms can go ahead with full-fledged employment without facing unfair competition.

The same goes for Circé Lienart, who runs a dedicated space in Paris for platform workers to catch some rest and receive legal advice. She said that Uber denies the reality of the platform-workers subordination relationship and “imposes self-employment” as the only possible contractual option.

Workers’ representatives’ general demand for status reclassification aligns with French legal precedence that found platform workers to be employed, per a March 2020 Cour de Cassation (France’s top court) ruling.

Since then, some platforms, including Uber and Deliveroo, have been found guilty of carrying out bogus self-employment. Hundreds of workers were subsequently reclassified.

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Social dialogue, platforms say

On the other hand, Uber extensively warned against mass reclassification, which they claim would lead to job losses – up to 250,000 across the EU, an industry-sponsored report found.

The tech platforms also argue that most platform workers prefer the independence and flexibility of self-employed status.

Instead, they welcome the French government’s efforts to hone in on ‘social dialogue’ as the key to better protecting the self-employed. A legislative package, pushed through between 2019 and 2021, enshrined social dialogue as the critical tool in determining matters about worker protection.

A deal was struck between platforms and cab drivers over minimum ride pay in January, and another is still in the making with food delivery workers.

“Social dialogue is a powerful mechanism that responds to two of drivers’ fundamental needs: having the freedom, flexibility and control to be their own boss while securing more rights and protections,” said Laureline Serieys, General Manager at Uber France, the day the deal was struck.

“We have not and will not make excuses for past behaviour that is clearly not in line with our present values,” Uber also said in a press release following the ‘Uber Files’ revelations.

France: Mobility apps and cab drivers agree on minimum ride pay

EURACTIV France obtained final drafts of two agreements that cab drivers and digital platforms, such as Uber, are set to sign on Wednesday, enshrining a minimum ride pay of €7.65 and setting the agenda for future negotiations.

All eyes on Brussels

Hopes are high that the EU will show the way forward, as an EU directive is set to create a legal presumption of employment between platforms and their workers.

In its original format, the European Commission proposal sets out five criteria to “determine whether the platform is indeed an ’employer’. If the platform fulfils at least two of these criteria, it is legally presumed to be an employer”.

On 2 February, the European Parliament adopted a mandate before negotiations with the Council and the Commission (‘trilogues’). The Parliament’s report enshrines a legal presumption of employment, though it does away with full-fledged criteria.

Talking about workers’ status at the French National Assembly “could have an impact on the European negotiations,” Lienart said.

On the other hand, the French government has always been critical of the directive’s scope. In a series of notes and letters reported on by EURACTIV in September 2022, French officials insisted that the EU legislative text risked undermining “social dialogue, [which] is a key element for the harmonisation of these new economic activities with better social rights and working conditions for workers using [these] platforms”.

The officials added, “French legislation currently allows both the platforms and the workers using them to remain free to choose their business model and contractual terms.”

A third round of hearings will occur on Thursday (9 March), where Uber Files’ whistleblower Mark MacGann will appear.

How France lobbied against Commission’s proposal on platform workers’ rights

France heavily lobbied the European Commission over the rights of platform workers, favouring the position of platforms and raising more concerns of collusion between French decision makers and industry lobbyists, according to documents obtained by EURACTIV.