Gig Economy Project – EU Commission and platform worker regulation: 10 meetings with platform companies, none with unions or workers

September 1, 2021 by https://braveneweurope.com/

In a Gig Economy Project exclusive, we reveal the lobbying influence of digital labour platforms over the Commission’s plans for regulating platform work

The Gig Economy Project, led by Ben Wray, was initiated by BRAVE NEW EUROPE enabling us to provide analysis, updates, ideas, and reports from all across Europe on the Gig Economy. If you have information or ideas to share, please contact Ben on GEP@Braveneweurope.com



This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in the EU is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust

Picture: Nicolas Schmit, EU Commissioner for jobs and social rights (by European Parliament).

The European Commission (EC) has been lobbied 10 times this year by platform companies over its plans to develop regulation on the working conditions of platform workers, while holding no meetings with trade unions or other groups representative of platform workers, the Gig Economy Project (GEP) can reveal.

On 24 February, the Commission announced a consultation on regulating platform work, the first phase of which ended in April and concluded “that there is a need for EU action to address these issues”. The second-phase of the consultation, to discuss the content of an EC intervention on platform work, has been ongoing since 15 June.

Analysing the official record of meetings of the EC’s jobs and social rights Commissioner, Nicolas Schmit, as well as his cabinet, GEP has found that so far this year they have held 10 meetings with some of Europe’s biggest platform companies to discuss platform work regulation, three of them directly with Schmit and the other seven with members of his cabinet.

All of Schmit’s meetings were following the conclusion of the first consultation and in advance of the second. Schmit met Wolt, a Finnish food delivery platform, on 9 June, Bolt, an Estonian private hire platform, on 26 April, and Uber, the US private hire giant, also on 26 April.

Members of Schmit’s Cabinet also met Wolt, Bolt and Uber in April and June, as well as four platforms and a PR/lobbying firm on 17 March, and Deliveroo a day earlier. Before the first consultation was announced in February, a meeting was held with Bolt to discuss platform work on 29 January.

The Commission’s spokesperson for jobs and social rights, Veerle Nuyts, was asked if only the views of platform companies were relevant when designing regulation on platform workers, but did not respond.

Commenting, Leïla Chaibi, MEP for France Insoumise, who sits on the European Parliament’s ‘committee on employment and social affairs’, told the Gig Economy Project: ”It is clear that the platforms are actively defending their interests. They are deploying the heavy artillery by lobbying hard for the forthcoming legislative proposal from the European Union.

“Workers’ lives are at stake, and they must be listened in order to change the legislation that concerns them directly. Otherwise, this legislative proposal will only represent the interest of the platforms.”

Ludovic Voet, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, told GEP that the meetings showed “just how worried platform companies are after losing court cases on workers’ rights across Europe.”

Voet added: “The Commission should see this last-ditch lobbying blitz for what it is: a desperate attempt to save a business model based on exploitation and legal loopholes. This aggressive anti-worker lobbying which was successful for platform companies in the US has no place in a social Europe.

“We expect the Commission to end the scandal of false self-employment of people who should be treated as workers and benefit from proper wages, holiday pay and social security.”

Felipe Corredor Álvarez, spokesperson for RidersXDerechos in Spain, a campaign group for app-based food delivery workers, told GEP: “The future of work shouldn’t be decided only by companies, they are only interested in benefits with no regard for workers’ rights.”

He added: “They will listen to us no matter how; in the Parliament or the streets.”

Platform lobbying in Brussels

The platform companies have invested significant funds to secure this lobbying access in Brussels, with the biggest investor in Brussels’ lobbying being Uber, which spends approximately €600,000 per year on lobbyists and donations to wider lobby groups and think-tanks in Brussels. Uber is affiliated to no less than 14 such organisations. Bolt has the highest number of Brussels lobbyists on its books, five, and they have secured a remarkable 10 meetings with EC figures on platform work in the past 12 months.

Using data from LobbyFacts.EU, the Gig Economy Project has been able to develop a picture of the lobbying of seven major gig employers in Brussels in the below table, which have spent well over €1 billion combined in lobbying efforts. It should be noted these figures do not include lobbying meetings with the staff of EC Commissioner’s and their cabinets, as the EC is not required to officially record these meetings.

Just how strong the platform corporate lobby is was highlighted in a 2019 report by the Corporate Europe Observatory on Uber’s lobbying activity, which found that “thanks to direct involvement with the Commission, via pressure exerted from industry groupings and lobbying associations, through work with think tanks, we often see the Commission act in their favour”.

The report found that former EC Commissioner for Competition from 2004-2010, Neelie Kroes, took up a position on Uber’s public policy advisory board in 2016, receiving shares in the company as payment. She was a fierce defender of Uber while Digital Agenda Commissioner. Kroes is just one of multiple examples of the “revolving door” between the EU institutions and Uber.

When Uber was taken to the European Court of Justice by Elite Taxi Barcelona in October 2015 over whether the company was an ‘information society services provider’ or a taxi company, the “Commission presented all possible legal arguments in favour of Uber,” the report finds. The ECJ ruled against Uber in December 2017.

More recently, digital labour platforms have combined together in funding lobby groups specifically aimed at influencing policy on platform work, including the ‘Instant Delivery Platform Coalition’, which was registered in January 2021, as one part-time lobbyist in Brussels (no funding figures are available), and the founding members are: Bolt, Deliveroo, Delivery Hero, Glovo, Stuart, Uber Eats and Wolt.

‘Move EU (the European Association of on-demand mobility)’ is another platform lobby group including Uber, Bolt and Free Now and has two part-time lobbyists in Brussels. Move EU aims to shape broader EU transport policy, including the European Green Deal. Move EU has held one meeting with the EU Commission in 2019, on multi-modal sustainable transport as part of plans for the European Green Deal.

Carlos Rodríguez, community manager of Elite Taxi Barcelona, which defeated Uber in the European Court of Justice in 2017, and vice-president of Taxi Project EU, a network of taxi unions trying to influence the direction of transport policy in the EU, told GEP that they are now in a “vital moment” in their battle against the private hire platforms and their lobbying power.

“We have been working for several months to counteract the pressure measures being exerted by Uber, Bolt, Cabify and Free Now, both in the European Union through the “Move EU” lobby and in Spain,” Rodríguez said. Elite Taxi and Taxi Project EU are currently involved in five legal disputes with the platform companies, including one at the ECJ, in which they are looking for financial support via donations.

“This September we will be presenting several actions that we have underway at judicial and administrative level both in Europe and in Spain, which will be accompanied by strong street demonstrations,” Rodríguez added. “We will not allow anyone to lose their rights in favour of these companies.”

A critical Directive

If, as expected, the EC’s consultations develop into a Directive on platform work, it would be binding on all member-states, a change which could potentially be critical in shaping the regulation of the gig economy in Europe. A decisive issue will be whether the EC comes out in favour of a presumption of employment status for platform workers, similar to what the Riders Law in Spain has legislated for app-based food delivery workers.

In the EC’s second consultation document on platform work, it states that “the key challenge in platform work relates to employment status”. Citing research that nine out of ten platforms in the EU currently consider platform workers to be independent contractors rather than employees, the consultation document adds that “most judges have decided in favour of reclassifying nominally independent contractors as workers and platforms as employers”.

Chaibi has developed her own proposals on behalf of the Left group in the European Parliament for EU legislation on the issue, but only the EC has power to initiate EU legislation. Chaibi told the Gig Economy Project in February that expectations for the Commission’s Directive should be “optimistic but rational”.

Chaibi added: “The corporate lobby are very strong in Brussels. We saw in California the platforms were able to pay $200 million to cancel the AB5 law. We know that the platforms are able to get out big weapons in order to avoid assuming the responsibility of employers and carry on with their business model.”

Big tech’s lobbying power

More broadly, the Corporate Europe Observatory published a new report on Tuesday [31 August] into big tech’s lobbying power in Brussels, finding it is now the biggest spenders on lobbying in Brussels of any industry sector, spending a collective €97 million annually to lobby the EU institutions.

That “lobbying firepower” is being used to influence the Digital Services Act (DSA) and Digital Markets Act (DMA), the European Commission’s planned legislation which is supposed to be about reining in the power of big tech. The report finds 75 per cent of all European Commission meetings on the DSA and DMA are with corporate lobbyists.