The third edition of the “Forum of Alternatives to Uberization” was organized by Leila Chaibi, MEP from France Insoumise and belonging to The Left (Gue/Ngl) group in Brussels, on September 7 and 8. The meeting was attended by activists, trade unionists and gig workers from around the world.
At the center of the debate was the upcoming approval of the European Platform Work Directive, which is expected to redefine the regulatory framework of EU member states that are guilty of lagging behind on this issue. Platform workers have been protesting in recent years, most notably riders and drivers, including during the pandemic, and have been demanding that they be awarded the minimum protections and rights of employees, as they are workers in their own right.
The general assembly of platform workers met at the headquarters of Smart Belgium in Brussels on September 7. Here, delivery workers, shoppers, drivers, taskers and cleaners had the opportunity to discuss the movement’s achievements and the behavior of multinational companies. The European directive can be important if it succeeds in influencing both the national laws of member states and also providing a direction for other, non-European legislation. That is, if the multinationals’ lobby won’t be able to neutralize the intentions behind it – it’s enough to recall the “Uber files.”
On September 8, the Forum was held in Parliament. Worker delegations had a chance to dialogue with academics and politicians. And they also had the chance to join the transnational mobilization of taxi drivers against Uber, on strike to defend taxi services. More than 2,000 drivers, from all over Europe, marched in the streets of the Belgian capital.
At the end of the day, workers’ representatives met at the European Parliament with members of the Greens (Kim Van Sparrentak), the radical Left (Leila Chaibi) and the Group of Democratic Socialists (Elisabetta Gualmini, from the Democratic Party), who are following the parliamentary debate on the directive and will present amendments and corrections to the text. No MEPs from the Moderate, Popular or Liberal groups chose to take part.
The demands on the part of gig workers were unanimous: to put a limit on the abuse of the model of pretend self-employment and casual work, through which platforms take away basic rights from workers, such as minimum wage, sick leave, vacations, maternity/paternity leave and access to social security services, as well as union rights.
Also important in the debate is the possibility of obtaining recognition of employee status through establishing the presence of the key features of employee work, and in presumption of it. If, for example, a company exercises managerial power over the workers, determining how the work is to be performed and when it is to be produced, then in that case it is employee work and an employment contract must be concluded.
Another important aspect to be addressed by the directive is the reversal of the burden of proof, so that plaintiffs will no longer have to prove that they are employees. Companies must prove that they are not, effectively making it easier for those who challenge the contract offered to obtain full rights. Finally, the workers expressed an urgent need to boost bargaining, especially on the issue of how the algorithm works, which should be supervised by workers’ representatives and become the subject of negotiations between the social partners.
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