Nah, there’s nothing going on here. Our people would love to do it themselves! They value the freedom and independence they have as a self-employed person. So what’s the problem?
Unions and judges may see a problem in the self-employed drivers of taxi app Uber or the self-employed bicycle couriers of meal delivery company Deliveroo, but those companies themselves do not understand this. In fact, if you listen to Uber and Deliveroo’s defense every time their business model comes under attack, you’d almost think the self-employment scheme is a brilliant way to cater to the needs of their drivers and couriers. And not a great way to earn money from staff without bearing the burden as an employer.
Uber sang the same song again this week. On Monday, the Amsterdam court ruled that Uber’s drivers are not self-employed but employees of the company. Uber would therefore have to hire the four thousand Dutch drivers who work via the taxi app and pay for taxi transport according to the collective labor agreement. Immediately. But on Thursday, the company said it would not hire the drivers for the time being. First, the company wants to understand the verdict. “In the interest of the drivers,” Uber will appeal. Because: “Drivers do not want to give up the freedom to choose whether, where and when and with whom they work.”
You would say: verdict passed, case solved. But unfortunately
Judges in Europe have repeatedly punctured this reasoning. For example, the Court of Appeal in Amsterdam asked itself in February: if it is true that Deliveroo deliverers prefer to work as a freelancer, why does Deliveroo not give the choice to work as an employee? Eeehhh. The judgment dryly notes that Deliveroo did not have a satisfactory answer. Outcome of that appeal: the couriers are employees and should be treated as such.
What the couriers and the drivers themselves want does not matter in those court decisions. Yes, there are people who want to work under the terms of Uber and Deliveroo, but that doesn’t change the requirement that the work must comply with the law. It is crucial in this regard whether there is a relationship of authority between Uber and the drivers, the judges write. How free is someone to fill in the work as they see fit? That is the difference between self-employed and employees. Well, Uber limits that freedom quite a bit. The company unilaterally determines the conditions under which the drivers work and regularly changes them without drivers having a say. Uber sets the rates, the knowledge about customers belongs to Uber.
The court vigorously punctured Uber’s defense: the company does not merely mediate between people looking for a taxi and drivers, Uber is an employer. That’s not a unique ruling – it’s in line with judges’ rulings on these types of ‘platform companies’ in various countries.
You would say: verdict passed, case solved. But unfortunately. The government is not currently enforcing the law, if at all. That is cringe-inducing, not to say a disgrace. Because smart tricks to have the lusts of staff, but not the burdens, are harmful in various ways. They undermine the competitor who does follow the law. They undermine the social system in which contributions are paid for and by employees. They leave employees unprotected. And they disrupt the job market.
Marike Stellinga is an economist and political reporter. She writes about politics and economics here every week.
Why Uber is an employer
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