The rules of the gig economy in Europe: what startups need to know

The gig economy has created some of the fastest growing tech companies over the past decade. Uber, Deliveroo, Bolt, Cabify and Glovo have all benefited from using freelance couriers and drivers to grow their networks, without incurring the substantial cost of employing these workers.

Now, in response to a considerable backlash around wages and workers’ rights, regulators and courts across Europe are crafting new rules for the gig economy. Here’s a breakdown of the crucial things to know, with a focus on EU politics and countries where courts and governments have made big decisions on platform work.

In general, it’s a real patchwork, with many conflicting decisions – even within one country (we’re looking at you, Britain). If you want the green light for your startup gig economy, Belgium currently seems like the easiest bet. But even in countries like Spain where the government has made it clear that gig workers are employees, there are easy ways around the law.

EU level – from 2024 you are legally an employer unless proven otherwise

In December 2021, the EU published his flagship plan to regulate the gig economy. This marks a big shift from the US approach to regulation, aimed at “ensuring that people working through digital work platforms can enjoy the labor rights and benefits to which they are entitled”.

The proposed measures will not be applied until at least 2024, but will bring big changes for the concert platforms operating in Europe. Until now, it was up to drivers and couriers to prove in court that they are not self-employed. The new European directive will place the burden on companies to prove that workers are not employees. Member States will be required to copy this into national legislation.

The EU measures set out five criteria that demonstrate an employer-employee relationship, which it defines as the company “controlling the performance” of work or a worker. The company will be legally considered an employer if it is deemed to control or supervise two of the following five areas: rate of pay; personal appearance or conduct; the quality of work; Business hours; and the ability to work for other companies.

Spain — circumventing the “law of the riders” thanks to subcontracting companies

Spain was the first European country to regulate the gig economy with national legislation, which was signed in August 2021. The so-called Horseman’s Law established a “presumption of use” between platforms and couriers.

In reality, it seems that companies are circumventing the law by using subcontracting companies to avoid employing riders directly. Barcelona-based Glovo planned to hire only 2,000 of its workforce 12,000 by the end of 2021, keeping the rest as casual work through subcontracting agencies.

Portugal — law in limbo

In October 2021, the Portuguese government approved a bill which would force concert platforms to employ couriers and drivers. Unfortunately, the Portuguese parliament was dissolved a few weeks later after the ruling Socialist Party failed to pass its budget, meaning the law is still awaiting parliamentary approval.

Italy – security and privacy tweaks, but employment rules still unclear

In February 2021, Milan prosecutors and the Italian labor inspectorate jointly issued a fine of 733 million euros to the country’s four main food delivery platforms (Just Eat, Uber Eats, Glovo and Deliveroo) for violating workplace safety laws. At the time, companies were also ordered to hire freelancers entirely.

By December the fines were reduced to €15,700 per company, but delivery hubs were required to give riders safety training and equipment, as well as medical screenings. No mention of the riders’ employment status was made in the December announcement.

In addition, in July 2021, the Italian data protection regulator ordered the Foodinho delivery platform to modify its staff management algorithm. It is reported that the regulator has found violation of privacy and labor law in the use of company data.

Greece — popular power

Greece is a European country that opposes the trend of trying to turn employees into gig workers. In June 2021, the country’s centre-right government signed a new labor law Who makes it easier for gig platforms hire workers as freelancers.

In September 2021, eFood, the country’s largest food delivery platform (the local subsidiary of Delivery Hero), tried to force 115 of its workers who were on three-month contracts to become self-employed.

He triggered a wave of strikes and the company has come under pressure to offer its 2,016 workers on three-month contracts a new contract with full employment.

UK – conflicting rulings for taxis and food deliveries

While the UK government has yet to craft gig economy laws, the country’s Supreme Court ruled in February 2021 that Uber drivers should be considered workers. Uber Okay provide its drivers with holiday pay, pension contributions and a fixed hourly wage.

Food courier businesses, meanwhile, continue to operate on the model of the gig and self-employed economy. Deliveroo won a lawsuit before the UK Court of Appeal in June 2021, in a decision that its couriers are self-employed.

France – watch the criminal case Deliveroo is facing

The French parliament has so far chosen not to legislate on the work of the on-demand economy, leave decisions about self-employment to the national labor courts. In February 2020, a Paris labor court found Deliveroo guilty of benefiting from “black work”, but the company overturned the decision on appeal.

Now three former directors of Deliveroo France are summoned before a criminal court to answer charges of non-declaration of jobs in the company. The hearing is scheduled to begin on March 8.

In March 2020, the Supreme Court of France also ruled that a The Uber driver was an employee.

Belgium — delivery people are NOT employees

Belgian gig economy activists received a major blow in December 2021, when a court denied Deliveroo riders the right to employment status.

Netherlands — Uber Drivers ARE Employees

In September 2021 a court in Amsterdam ruled that Uber drivers are covered by the “collective labor agreement for transport by taxi”, that is to say that they are employees of a taxi company. Uber has announced that it will appeal the decision.

Tim Smith is Sifted Iberia’s correspondent. He tweets from @timmpsmith

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