politics

Uber Proposes California-Style Gig Work Reforms in Europe

Philip Pacheco | AFP via Getty Images
  • Uber urged EU policymakers to implement reforms that protect drivers and couriers operating through an app, without reclassifying them as employees.
  • The ride-hailing giant floated a model similar to Prop 22 in California, which exempted its drivers from employee status while still entitling them to some benefits.
  • The move comes ahead of a review from the European Commission on Feb. 24, which aims to lay the groundwork for regulation of gig economy platforms.

LONDON — Uber called on the European Union to introduce a framework for gig economy workers, floating a model similar to that adopted by California after a contentious fight over the employment status of its drivers.

The U.S. ride-hailing giant shared a "white paper" with EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager, jobs commissioner Nicolas Schmit and other officials. It urged policymakers to implement reforms that protect drivers and couriers operating through an app, without reclassifying them as employees.

It's a thorny issue for Uber and other companies in the so-called gig economy that encourage temporary, flexible working models in favor of full-time employment. Last year, Uber, Lyft and other firms successfully fought against proposals in California which would have given their drivers the status of employees rather than independent contractors.

Californian voters approved Proposition 22, a measure that would allow drivers for app-based transportation and delivery companies to be classified as independent contractors while still entitling them to new benefits like minimum earnings and vehicle insurance.

"We're calling on policymakers, other platforms and social representatives to move quickly to build a framework for flexible earning opportunities, with industry-wide standards that all platform companies must provide for independent workers," Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a blog post Monday. 

"This could include introducing new laws such as the legislation recently enacted in California," he added.

Uber said the EU could alternatively set new principles through a "European model of social dialogue" between platform workers, policy makers and industry representatives.

'Third way'

Uber has warned that, by treating its drivers as employees, authorities would give the firm no choice but to increase costs — and that those costs would be passed down to customers.

Uber envisions a "third way" for gig economy employment status that offers drivers some protections while still allowing them flexibility of contract work. In the U.S., the firm suggested benefits funds that can be used by workers for things like health insurance and paid time off.

The company's European white paper calls for new rules that encompass an "industry-wide level playing field" and sets a "consistent earnings baseline" for workers across different platforms.

The move comes ahead of a review from the European Commission on Feb. 24, which aims to lay the groundwork for regulation of gig economy platforms.

It also arrives at a time when food delivery is booming while taxi-hailing services have been severely impacted by coronavirus lockdowns in Europe. Companies like Uber and Deliveroo faced criticism for failing to provide drivers with a safety net during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, drivers are making demands of their own on Uber's business practices across Europe. In the U.K., the Supreme Court is set to deliver a ruling on whether Uber's drivers should be classified as workers entitled to protections like a minimum wage and holiday pay. Elsewhere, Uber drivers in the Netherlands are demanding the company reveals how its algorithms manage their work.

It's not the first time Uber has faced scrutiny in Europe. In 2017, the European Court of Justice dealt Uber a major setback by ruling it was a transportation firm rather than a digital company, paving the way for stricter regulation of the firm. And London twice banned the app from operating in the U.K. capital over safety concerns. Uber was issued a temporary London license in September.

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