Uber risks death by a thousand lawsuits – POLITICO

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If Uber were to become a traditional taxi company that owns its cars and pays its drivers’ salaries, would that still be Uber?

This is the question its leaders are now faced with as European courts decide on the status of its drivers. With thousands of drivers striving to be recognized as employees, an essential component of the company’s business – flexible drivers with flexible hours – is at risk.

Last week, a Dutch judge ruled that Uber drivers should be classified as employees and entitled to the benefits associated with that status. A similar ruling was issued by the UK Supreme Court in February, which reclassified drivers as ‘workers’, meaning they are entitled to minimum wage, working time protections and time off. paid. More than 100 similar court cases are progressing across Europe, and while many have sided with Uber, the majority are siding with drivers.

With Spain passing a law requiring all platforms to recognize their couriers as employees, the trend seems unacceptable for Uber, which has warned that self-employment itself is under threat. The company “supports efforts to strengthen self-employment – rather than eliminate it – with industry-wide minimum standards that protect all workers on the platform,” she said. stated Thursday in an e-mail.

Balancing the benefits of flexible working, such as deciding when and how much to work, with ensuring that workers have minimal employment protections and benefits – not to mention maintaining value for customers – is something something that other countries like Germany and France are struggling with as well.

Brussels weighs

And now the European Commission is also launching into the debate, which could set a precedent across the continent.

The bloc’s executive body will present a legislative initiative in December aimed at improving the working conditions of platform workers, who form more than a tenth of the bloc’s workforce. It is not known what the Commission will propose, given that it has limited authority over labor policy. The Commission said it could come up with a directive, which requires member countries to make their own laws to achieve a target set by the EU.

He knows the legal tides are changing.

“Court rulings have gone in different directions, but most judges have decided to reclassify theoretically independent entrepreneurs as workers and platforms as employers,” says a Commission document.

The Commission “cannot ignore” these decisions, according to Valerio De Stefano, researcher in platform work at KU Leuven. “They are not just one or two courts, they are supreme courts or courts of appeal. It’s a wave of judgments that have confirmed that this kind of work is compatible with employment status. This will certainly influence the reaction of the Commission.

The company says it is happy to negotiate benefits and other aspects of the job with its drivers, but De Stefano said that would not work. “You can promise as many benefits as you want, but job protection is not a menu à la carte. You cannot choose the type of protection you want to offer. No employer is allowed to do this.

MEPs are trying to get the Commission to classify workers as employees as well. On Thursday, the European Parliament adopted the recommendations of a report that called for strengthened rights for platform workers. The report, written by French liberal MEP Sylvie Brunet, was dismissed by Uber as “damaging legislation”.

The gist of the proposal is to allow a temporary agency worker to challenge their status and place the legal burden on the platform to justify why the worker would not be considered an employee. The proposal does not mean that every concert worker is automatically an employee, but it is relatively easy for a worker to be classified as such. “It will also, I think, change the behavior of platforms,” Brunet said in an interview. “Because they will have to be prepared to be clear on the status.”

It is unclear whether the Commission will incorporate Parliament’s recommendations, which are not binding, into its own legislation, but companies are still concerned.

“The bad problem”

According to a statement from Move EU, a lobby group representing ridesharing companies including Uber, Bolt and Free Now, “such court rulings or potential legislative changes address the wrong issue.”

The group argues that most drivers prefer to be self-employed and the flexible hours that the statute gives them. “Any decision to re-qualify self-employed drivers as employees is concerning as it directly contracts what the vast majority of drivers say they value the most: the flexibility and independence to work when, where and for whom they want. ”

The Commission has limited authority over labor policy, which remains a national competence, but the Commission’s proposal is likely to still carry weight, as courts and lawmakers across the continent seek guidance and legal precedent. .

But some countries have warned against reclassifying workers into employees, granting Uber powerful officials and governments who share their point of view. France, for example, said governments should be careful “not to tip the world of platforms into the world of employment, which is not economically reasonable,” according to the Secretary of State for Business. European Clément Beaune.

In Spain, where the so-called Cavaliers Act is in force, some courier unions have warned that being reclassified as employees actually threatens their livelihoods, with some companies, including Deliveroo, considering leaving the country. .

But even if the Commission and other countries do not adopt Spanish law, Uber’s business model is still under threat, according to Brunet, the MEP.

“It is impossible to continue with this model … because there will be more court judgments.”

Hanne Cokelaere contributed reporting.

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