When the previous uber Driver Yassin Aslam first started campaigning for workers’ rights on the apps in 2014, as the battle felt hopeless; Like a “dark tunnel”. He claims that academics told him it was impossible to succeed because his fellow temporary workers were very heterogeneous and the majority were ethnic minorities, groups that do not have high rates of union membership. Seven years later, Aslam – who is now president of the Application Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU), a group of thousands of members – can search across the UK and Europe and see several court cases ruling in favor of more employment rights for temporary workers. . “This has been a massive year,” he says. “We are now beginning to see the light.”
Over the past 12 months, gig economy firms have spent a lot of time in court, with judges scrutinizing a business model that promises workers more flexibility in exchange for fewer rights than traditional employees. But on December 9, the European Commission announced one of the biggest challenges to this business model to date, publishing a major new bill designed to reshape the relationship between temporary job workers and the platforms that pay them. If the rules are passed, they could affect up to 4 million people, the commission estimates, suggesting they are responding to a flurry of activism in national courts. There are over a thousand court rulings across the European Union already [against] “There are still hundreds of cases pending,” European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said at a press conference. “So the point of this proposal is, among other things, to provide more clarity.”
The first historic case of 2021 arrived in February, not in the European Union but in the United Kingdom. Aslam was among a group of 25 drivers who challenged the way Uber classified them as self-employed. Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of drivers, granting them rights such as minimum wage and vacation pay. The case was just the start of a year that saw courts across Europe hand out rulings that affected ride-hailing apps including Uber, Bolt and Ola, as well as delivery apps such as Deliveroo and Glovo. Uber said it would appeal a similar decision by a Dutch court in September that said drivers were employees, not contractors. In Belgium, a court decided in November that only Uber drivers with official taxi licenses can continue to operate, which the company said excluded 95 percent of drivers on the app. This week, a High Court in London ruled that the way mobile transport apps claimed to be “customers”, facilitating a contract between driver and passenger, was inconsistent with the city’s transport laws. Instead, companies like Uber and Free Now will have to take responsibility for rides on the app themselves.
The court tracks cases around the world, says Jeffrey Vogt, director of the rule of law at the Solidarity Center, a labor rights group in Washington, D.C. This setup has been accepted for years, he adds, but recently there has been an explosion in litigation. The London High Court decision is just one example of this deconstruction of the facilitator’s situation. “The majority of judicial opinions inside and outside Europe find a working relationship,” Vogt says. “There are still outliers, but I think that’s definitely the trend.” One such outlier includes a December 8 decision in Belgium in which the court found that Deliveroo passengers could not be reclassified as employees.
Valerio Di Stefano, professor of labor law at Belgium’s KU Leuven, says the general consensus among Europe’s judges means that Europe’s temporary jobs economy business model is unlikely to continue in its current form. “in my opinion, [gig economy companies] They will have to decide whether they want to run the business model by the rules or change their business model entirely by allowing workers to set their own fees and not be fired from the platform for low ratings.” Avoiding change will be more difficult if court victories continue to be consolidated through regulation. “In May 2021, the Spanish government transformed a 2020 Supreme Court ruling into a law requiring temporary job workers to be recognized as employees. A similar bill was approved by the Portuguese government in October 2021 and is awaiting a final stamp of approval from Parliament,” says Joanna Winkbach, Director The Hugo Sensheimer Institute in Frankfurt, a research organization that works closely with trade unions in Germany: “Our litigation successes are important because they shape legislation and put pressure on lawmakers to clarify labor law.”