A downpour in Brussels didn’t dampen the spirits of a small group of demonstrators opposite the Europa building, home to crucial discussions on the future of Europe’s gig economy. Holding a banner proclaiming “Don’t Let Uber Make the Law,” the protesters, comprising individuals from Belgium, Austria, and Spain, aired their grievances against what they perceive as the exploitation of gig workers by platforms.
Marcus Haunold, a Foodora courier from Vienna, expressed his disillusionment, stating, “Something has to change because the current situation is really bad for most platform workers.” As negotiations surrounding the Platform Work Directive, aimed at regulating the gig economy, continue, suspicions arise regarding Uber’s alleged attempts to influence the rules in its favor.
Leïla Chaibi, a French MEP, voiced concerns about Uber’s involvement, stating, “Uber is using all the tools they can use to destroy the directive.” Uber, however, denies these allegations, with spokesperson Casper Nixon emphasizing the need for a directive that preserves the flexibility of genuine independent workers.
Anticipating a workforce of over 40 million in digital platforms by 2025, the EU aimed to strike a balance between platform interests and workers’ rights through clear guidelines on algorithmic management and employment status. However, recent developments suggest a souring of optimism, with unions wary of Uber’s influence, recalling the company’s success in shaping regulations in California.
Kim Van Sparrentak, a Dutch MEP, expressed concern over the intensity of Uber’s lobbying efforts, stating, “Sometimes it feels like you’re negotiating with tech companies rather than member states.” Uber’s declared lobbying budget in 2022 ranged from €700,000 to €799,999, raising questions about its potential impact.
Apart from traditional lobbying, Uber’s engagement extends to funding research and advertising. The company commissioned studies by Accenture and Copenhagen Economics, shaping the narrative around platform work. Instagram ads in Belgium highlighted Uber’s positive impact, furthering its perspective on worker benefits.
Jeremias Adams-Prassl, a law professor, emphasized the stakes for Uber, stating, “Classification is the entry point into the whole range of protections.” The debate over employment classification continues, with MEPs favoring presumptive employee status and EU member states advocating for workers to prove their status against set criteria.
As the EU navigates this complex terrain, platform workers fear enforcement challenges, citing examples like Spain, where Deliveroo ceased operations following new regulations. The battle for basic rights, such as minimum wage and limited working hours, remains at the forefront, challenging the rhetoric of innovation and technology used by platforms to reshape the gig economy landscape.