On 15 February, the ride-hailing and food-delivery giant published a white paper as part of its lobbying effort aimed at safeguarding its business model.
Writing in a blog post accompanying the paper, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said a “new standard” for platform work needed to “recognise the value of independent work, and be grounded in principles drivers and couriers say are most important to them”.
Uber’s lengthy paper was published ahead of the European Commission’s 24 February consultation on improving the working conditions of gig workers.
The EU executive will be seeking feedback on gig workers’ rights from relevant stakeholders before deciding on new legislation towards the end of this year.
“We believe a new approach is possible – one where having access to protections and benefits doesn't come at the cost of flexibility and of job creation,” said Khosrowshahi.
“We need clear, progressive laws that recognise the value of this unique type of independent work and pave the way for better protecting it.”
Uber’s CEO added that a one-size-fits-all approach to regulating the gig economy “isn’t suitable across Europe” as “better protections and benefits for platform work will be different from country to country”.
The white paper suggests establishing an “industry-funded portable benefits fund”, allowing platform workers to “accrue funds to access the protections and benefits they want”.
Uber’s white paper is an attempt to narrowly define the parameters within which the debate about platform working conditions can take place
Uber was dealt a blow on 19 February after the UK Supreme Court unanimously followed judges in Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain ruling in favour of reclassifying gig workers’ employment rights.
Meanwhile, in Australia, Uber Eats has come under fire for a new contract that, it was claimed, appeared aimed at halting claims the delivery riders should be treated as employees.
As reported by Guardian Australia, drivers who signed the contract would be self-employed contractors and there would be no “employment relationship between you and Uber”.
Uber has had better news in the US where, earlier this month, the California Supreme Court dismissed a constitutional challenge to Proposition 22, a voter-approved law allowing platform companies to continue treating workers as independent contractors rather than as employees.
The Service Employees International Union and three app-based drivers filed the lawsuit in January after tech companies Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash, among others, spent more than $200m on the November 2020 ballot, which saw 58% of voters opt in favour of the new law.
Discussing the ballot result on an earnings call last November, Uber’s Khosrowshahi said the tech giant would “more loudly advocate for laws like Prop-22” and “work with governments across the US and the world to make this a reality”.
“We feel strongly that this is the right approach, we should be adding benefits to gig work to make it better, not getting rid of it altogether in favour of an employment-only system,” he said.
“That’s why going forward you’ll see us more loudly advocating for new laws like Prop-22, which we believe strike the balance between preserving the flexibility that drivers value so much, while adding protections that all gig workers deserve.”
In its white paper, Uber called on policymakers “to build a framework for flexible earning opportunities”, which “could include universal standards such as the Proposition 22 legislation recently introduced in California”.
However, Fairwork, an academic research project evaluating the working conditions of digital labour platforms internationally, said Uber’s paper “calls for a law change to legitimise a lower level of protection for platform workers than most European workers benefit from”.
“The white paper reproduces the strategy taken by Uber in California where, after the state introduced new regulation that would have extended employee benefits to platform workers, they and several other prominent platforms successfully pushed for a watered-down alternative,” Fairwork’s researchers said in a blog post, adding that it was “no surprise to see the company extending this strategy to Europe”.
“Uber’s white paper is an attempt to narrowly define the parameters within which the debate about platform working conditions can take place. It is corporate lobbying masquerading as progressivism,” researchers continued. “Exceptions from employment law might be limited to sectors like driving and delivery today, but could soon become the norm for a much wider range of jobs throughout the labour market.”
While the European Commission prepares its consultation on the gig economy, MEPs have called on the legislative framework on minimum working conditions to apply to all workers, including “atypical or non-standard workers” in the digital economy, to fight in-work poverty.
MEPs said such workers should also be covered by labour laws and social security provisions and be able to engage in collective bargaining.