France Considers New Protections for Gig Worker ‘Invisibles’

(Bloomberg) -- France will consider proposals to protect gig workers after pandemic lockdowns pushed the status of people who rely on tech platforms for their income to the forefront.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has appointed a group of nine experts to suggest increased protection for platform workers, such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Deliveroo drivers, and others by October, according to a copy of the request made public by one of the members.

“The virus crisis has made the situation of frontline people visible and politicians see the need to respond to it,” said Nicolas Brien, chief executive officer of France Digitale, an industry group that represents more than 1,500 French and European startups and is part of the group drafting proposals. “We are talking about ‘invisibles,’ and there are very few documented studies or estimates about them across the continent.”

The group’s been asked to examine opportunities to enhance social protections, transparency from companies about their agreements with workers and workers’ access to profits. It won’t write a new bill for workers, but will suggest a series of measures to modify labor rules, Brien said.

A representative for the French government didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“The debate on the status and conditions of activity of the self-employed is a subject to which we have been contributing in France and throughout the world for several months,” an Uber spokesperson said. “We are committed to continuing to guarantee the independence and flexibility so much appreciated by drivers and delivery drivers while developing their social protection and existing mechanisms for dialog.”

“Riders who choose to work with us tell us that they want the freedom and flexibility to choose when, where and whether to work, balanced with security. Deliveroo provides security to riders in France in the form of free accident insurance and sick pay, but we would like to go further,” a spokesman for Deliveroo said. “Deliveroo has long argued that we want to provide more protection to riders without this impacting the flexibility that comes with self-employment. We look forward to continuing to work with the French government on this issue.”

The results may also be presented to the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, as it prepares its own initiative to improve the labor conditions of platform workers set to be unveiled as early as 2021. The EU in early June opened up a public consultation, inviting comments from the public about its plans for platform regulation as well as their views on the challenges faced by self-employed platform workers.

France’s initiative feeds into a broader push back against gig-economy platforms, which historically insist that they’re providing technology for self-employed freelancers. Officials in California have sued Uber and Lyft Inc. for denying employee benefits to their drivers, relying on a law that went into effect this year that could force the companies to reclassify workers as employees.

With delivery drivers on these platforms dropping off food, necessities and parcels while their countries were in lockdown, risking exposure to Covid-19 and providing essential services, some platform companies have increased the rights they offer workers.

But tensions remain. Philippe said in the letter to the experts, published by Brien on his LinkedIn account, that twofold impact of the health and economic crisis makes it more necessary than ever to raise “the issues of social and economic protections.”

France Digitale’s Brien said the goal is to have European rules that will apply even if the platforms are from outside the bloc.

In March, France’s highest court ruled that since Uber drivers can’t build their own customer bases, don’t set their rates and have itineraries imposed on them, the Silicon Valley ride-sharing giant “unilaterally determines its terms and rules” and drivers are treated more like employees than freelancers.

“Europe wants to keep a lead in the protection of its citizens, like with GDPR,” Brien said, referring to Europe’s landmark data-protection legislation.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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