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EU backs watered-down labour plan for Uber and Deliveroo workers

EU directive allows member states to decide when a gig worker should count as an employee.

European Union countries reached a deal that would keep key decisions in the hands of member states, breaking a deadlock over plans for workers’ rights in the gig economy. The move marks a change in the EU’s years-long push to develop clearer employment rights for the millions of couriers and drivers who work through online platforms such as taxi company Uber and food delivery services like Deliveroo. This issue has brought businesses and unions into conflict with each other in courts around the world.

The new proposal from Belgium, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, will allow countries to decide when workers are considered employees and have access to benefits such as sick pay, after previous attempts to set performance standards across the EU failed to get the necessary approvals.

Commissioner Nicholas Schmidt hailed the deal as “an important step forward” in an emailed statement, although affected businesses protested the proposed rules. Move EU, the trade group that represents Bolt, Uber and Free Now, expressed disappointment at the decision, which “fails to achieve a unified approach across the EU and creates legal uncertainty for drivers“. Uber said in a statement that the decision “will remain in effect, where the rights of online employees are determined from state to state and from court to court” and called on employees to maintain their independence while receiving care.

However, the union’s reaction to the agreement was more positive. “Millions of people who work through digital platforms will not suffer in terms of low wages, sick pay, holiday pay and social security,” said Ludovic Voet of the European Trade Union Confederation.

The rules apply to how digital platforms manage employees. These rules limit the use of algorithms and prevent the firing of employees based on decisions made by automated systems. The so-called Platform Work Directive still needs to be ratified by the European Parliament and EU member states, after which countries will have two years to incorporate the rules into their national laws.

In its plans for the next five years, Luxembourg’s new government has said it will renew efforts to license Uber if the ride-hailing service can ensure profitability.

Private lawyers who represented Uber, when it tried to establish a company in Luxembourg, argued that Uber is not an employer, but only a licensee.

Last month, the Minister of Labour of Luxembourg, Georges Michaud, said that if the EU does not grant the mandate, or if the mandate does not meet the expectations of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the country has its own model law to protect the rights of database workers.