Are we seeing the emergence of a new gig economy in Europe?

by Matthew Niblett on 10 Feb 2021

In recent weeks companies operating in the gig economy have been signing agreements with regulators and unions regarding the status of their workers. The highest profile of these has been food delivery company JustEat, which has announced that it will move away from the gig economy model in several of its markets and will offer its drivers benefits including hourly wages, sick pay, and pension contributions.

JustEat is not the only company that is rethinking its model. German food delivery company Foodora was recently in negotiations with the Swedish Transport Workers’ Union about a collective agreement, although talks broke down over the issue of whether couriers who use cars, rather than bicycles or mopeds, would be in scope. And in Tuscany a company which operates under the Runner Pizza brand has signed an agreement with three Italian unions which will see delivery couriers paid according to hours worked and receive holiday pay, sick pay, and severance pay.

These kinds of agreement can have knock on effects, as seen in Denmark. Following JustEat’s decision to sign a collective agreement with its couriers in Denmark, the Deputy Director of the Danish Chamber of Commerce hoped that other companies would follow suit.

Activity in the gig economy is not limited to agreements between companies and unions either. There has been a spate of rulings across Europe in recent months, mostly not in favour of the gig economy. In September 2020, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that couriers for delivery firm Glovo were not self-employed. More recently, a court in Barcelona ruled, based on the Supreme Court’s judgement, that 748 Deliveroo riders were in an employment relationship with the company.

Future developments could also cause gig economy companies anxiety. In the UK, Uber is still awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision about the nature of its relationship with its drivers. In the meantime, Uber is also being sued by black cab divers for alleged failures to follow rules for private hire vehicles between 2012 and 2018.

Individual court cases apply only within the context of the specific relationships they are asked to examine, and the specifics of a company’s relationship with its workers will vary from company to company. Therefore, the long-term future of the gig economy is likely to rest on a major political intervention, like the one we have seen in California, where the state government introduced a law (AB5) that sought to reclassify most gig economy workers as employees rather than contractors.

The EU is attempting to address this with its upcoming initiative report on platform working conditions. Policymakers are not only focusing on ‘traditional’ employment issues such as the minimum wage, but also topics such as how gig economy companies use algorithms to manage their workforce, something which can also be seen in Spain’s new ‘rider law’.

Both companies and policymakers are reviewing the relationship between gig workers and the platforms they use. COVID-19 is the most compelling explanation for this. As we have argued before, the pandemic has increased political and media discussion around gig work, not only because European citizens have used food delivery and transport platforms more during national lockdowns, but also because gig workers have often not qualified for the kinds of government support schemes that benefit ordinary workers. This has increased pressure on politicians to act, but also on companies to offer benefits to their workers, evidenced by the various agreements cited at the beginning of this article. 2021 will be an interesting year for the gig economy indeed.

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Topics: Future of work, Gig economy

Matthew Niblett

Written by Matthew Niblett

Matthew provides monitoring and analysis to clients in energy, mobility, short-term accommodation, and the wider sharing economy. He coordinates two sector news summaries covering the bike sharing and on-demand transport sector for some of the leading players in the sector.

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