Position Paper on Platform Workers
Move EU brings together the leading actors in the field of new mobility services. Speaking with one voice, our members aim to foster sustainable deployment of on-demand mobility and ride-hailing in the European Union. As information society service, Move EU members act as online intermediaries between Private Hire Vehicle (PHV) or taxi drivers and passengers, efficiently pairing supply and demand. This enables drivers to maximise their revenue and passengers to access the best transportation offer while reducing the number of empty kilometers. In doing so, we provide revenue opportunities to hundreds of thousands of ride-hailing drivers in the European Union and provide access to modern and efficient mobility services to millions of European citizens.
The inherent openness of the ride-hailing sector contributes to social inclusion. During the COVID-19 pandemic, which unfortunately is still ongoing, and the subsequent economic downturn across Europe, our platforms have continued to create opportunities for a significant number of people to maximize the reach of transportation providers and to provide safe and reliable transportation options to European citizens.
This has been possible thanks to the flexibility that is at the core of our business model. We operate in a highly competitive market with a high degree of substitution, online or offline, since customers and drivers in most cases use multiple platforms in parallel to book and provide services, depending on the best offer. Ride-hailing platforms compete to attract customers as well as drivers by offering the best value proposition.
Flexibility ranks consistently as one of the top reasons why drivers choose to offer their services through platforms as they get to choose when, where, if and for how long they will provide their services. Yet, this flexibility is not detrimental to their income as many drivers have a higher degree of life satisfaction compared to other workers, earning more than the minimum wage in their countries. In addition, drivers use platforms to access a bigger pool of customers and thereby increase their income.
However, self-employed service providers face several challenges (irrespective of whether the provision of service is online or offline), given that “historically, national social protection systems have primarily been developed to protect people in standard employment”, which consequently exposes those in diverse forms of employment to vulnerabilities.
Therefore, we call on the EU institutions to set the groundwork and provide clarity with meaningful reforms to improve the working conditions of all workers and allow them to maximise their benefits and maintain their flexibility. Responsible behaviours and proactive measures by companies should be incentivised to ensure adequate protection for all platform workers.
Any change at the detriment of flexibility and independence, in order to fit the pre-existing boxes of employment policy, would be of great harm to all participants, in particular the drivers and passengers. Balanced proposals should also take into consideration that platform work as a whole does not represent a homogenous sector and cannot be approached in a single, uniform manner.
It is for this reason, that Move EU calls on the European Commission to explore different policy options:
- Issuing country-specific recommendations within the European semester to coordinate different policies
- Drawing up a Communication to provide guidance
- Drawing up Council Recommendations to provide line of action
- Industry-led Charter on good platform work including review and tangible KPIs
- Drawing up Charter on good platform work including review and tangible KPIs and voluntary collective representation nationally where parties wish to engage
- Drawing up a Directive to achieve a certain goal and allowing MS to identify national approach to reaching such a goal
With the aim to contribute to the ongoing debate on so-called “platform workers” at the EU-level, Move EU would like to point out several factors that should be taken into consideration during the discussion:
1. Employment status
Drivers in the ride-hailing sector are licensed, registered, and maybe self-employed or employed professionals, regulated by national and local competent authorities. Across the EU, PHV and taxi drivers hold a specific license, subject to local regulations. Generally, courts face difficulties in interpreting labor law for the digital age, which illustrates the uncertainty facing platforms and platform workers. In March 2020, the French Supreme Court ruled that a driver driving for a ride-hailing platform was an employee. However, since that decision, French courts ruled for drivers to remain self-employed several times, with the most recent ruling of Lyon’s Court of Appeal. That decision confirmed that a driver was self-employed based on the freedom of the driver to work or not with the app (main difference with an employment relationship). The ruling also underlined the fact that safety and quality standards imposed by the platform do not go beyond usual requirements in a commercial relationship. There is a need for action on EU level, as national rules and court decisions are creating a patchwork and uncertainty for platforms, drivers and passengers.
A key element of the ride-hailing sector is that drivers can connect to any platform they wish to, meaning that there is no exclusivity of the relationship between a driver and a platform. Most drivers are connected to several platforms, often simultaneously, when they are waiting for a ride in order to choose the journey with the best value. Additionally, drivers have no obligation to provide their service on any platform as they can choose unilaterally whether to work or not at any given moment. Taxi drivers also have the possibility to offer their service in the street or a taxi rank, while PHV drivers can also maintain an offline business. Ride-hailing platforms are in a situation where they compete to attract the drivers by offering the best value proposition, including additional perks and benefits. Changes to this non-exclusivity and self-employed status would likely impact this freedom of choice for drivers (PHV and Taxi) to switch between platforms, jeopardize the competition in the sector and result in the deterioration of the service for the consumer.
The majority of drivers operate their own business in the transportation sector. The relationship between the platform and such drivers is therefore already regulated by the recent EU Platform-to- Business Regulation (P2B) which provides for several protective elements for drivers towards platforms.
- In line with Commissioner Schmit’s recent comments, any EU intervention should focus on improving conditions of drivers in an upcoming platform work initiative while retaining the flexibility that is a key part of platforms’ value proposition.
- Legal clarity and certainty will unlock the sector and ensure harmonised opportunities for rider and passenger.
2. Working conditions
Drivers offering their services through ride-hailing platforms can connect and disconnect whenever they want. Some Member States, like Portugal, have introduced rules limiting the number of hours a PHV driver can work. In the case of taxi drivers, most are very strictly regulated concerning their working hours, which does not allow them to efficiently match supply and demand at a specific time of the day. Better accommodation of their working hours would allow taxi drivers to work more efficiently with greater utilisation of the resources, covering the demand when it really exists. This would be particularly important for periods with high demand, such as festivities, weekends or nights.
Therefore, and in particular in the case of PHV, working hours vary greatly among the drivers, depending on whether this is their main activity or whether it comes in addition to another professional activity or occupation. A high proportion of PHV drivers are connected less than 20 hours a week, either supplementing their income from other employment or are providing their services, fitting work in around study, child-care or care of sick or elderly relatives. It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of drivers say they need this flexibility - in comparison to conventional employment patterns such as shift work - and want to remain in full control of their working schedule.
Many drivers increase their earnings after starting in the ride-hailing sector and earn on average significantly more than the minimum wage in their respective countries. Drivers also use ride-hailing platforms to access a bigger pool of customers, which allows them to increase their monthly income. In line with that, many drivers have a higher degree of overall satisfaction compared to other workers (highlighted for example in a study from the University of Oxford).
Ride-hailing platforms strive to ensure the best working conditions for the drivers. During challenging times such as the coronavirus crisis, Move EU members have adopted several measures to maximise the well-being and safety of our driver-partners. These measures include:
- Collaborating with local health authorities;
- Requesting - and where possible supporting - drivers to keep their vehicles clean and disinfected;
- Ensuring that all drivers are duly informed and follow the latest recommendations by the WHO and local authorities;
- Financially assist driver-partners, in case of infections or asked to quarantine.
- The European Commission should create a framework to clarify and incentivize the sharing of best practices among platforms to ensure consistency of working conditions, social protection and safety among drivers.
3. Access to social protection and benefits
Ride-hailing platforms have invested in creating a safe and reliable framework for drivers to offer their services and for passengers to use them. Some ride-hailing platforms already voluntarily offer additional occupational insurance to drivers. However, offering occupational insurance beyond national provisions should not lead to a reclassification, as this disincentives ride-hailing platforms to take such voluntary measures. Instead, legal clarity can lead to more social protection to drivers and the question of classification should not be based on the provided level of protection. A key issue that platforms face is that national social protection systems have primarily been developed to protect people in standard employment, at a time when these were the absolute norm. Nevertheless, diverse forms of work (e.g. self-employed, agency workers, workers with a temporary contract etc.) have become very widespread (e.g., according to the OECD about 29%).
This has led to companies only being able to provide protection for workers in traditional/standard forms of employment, creating protection and/or pension gaps to the detriment of workers in new forms of employment. This greatly affects the many drivers who see our platforms as the best way for them to find clients and work, and who are primarily attracted by the flexibility and independence that our platforms offer.
We see the importance of continuing to improve work for everyone, including those who are seeking greater control of their working lives and choosing to work independently, whether online or offline. To do that, the EU should seize opportunities to modernize policy in order to adapt employment law to provide better conditions and rights for diverse forms of work, such as self-employment, part-time work and temporary work.
Allowing companies to partner with independent workers on a regular basis to provide benefits while securing legal certainty would deliver greater well-being to workers, not leaving them ultimately with an uncomfortable choice between flexibility and social protection.
The European Commission’s planned initiative to improve the working conditions of platform workers should support/incentivize responsible behaviour by companies and avoid creating additional legal risks when ensuring adequate protection for all platform workers. Additionally, it can set the groundwork for social system reforms that recognise the specificities of independent work and call for a framework that works for non-exclusive employment relationships.
As previously stated, platform work is very diverse, and a one-size-fits-all approach could carry weight on the business model of platforms and ultimately affect negatively the many independent workers relying on them.
- Ensure the enforcement of the Council Recommendations on access to social protection that aims to put in place reforms by the MS that will enable the provision of benefits to diverse types of work.
- Promote the exchange of best practices among member states to ensure that approaches that enable access to social protection to all types of work are communicated and promoted.
- Classification of drivers should not be based on the level of protection provided, as this disincentivizes voluntary measures taken by ride-hailing platforms.
Self-employed transport service providers offering their services on platforms or offline have always been able to create and join representation bodies, like all independent workers. Freedom of association is a fundamental right in the EU.
However, with drivers using online platforms for different purposes and for different amounts of time depending on individual needs and interests, it is important to note that the platform experience varies for each user as drivers using our platforms can be self-employed but can also be the employees of a company offering transportation services. Drivers’ profiles can be very diverse, and their intention to remain in the profession for a given period of time also differs depending on each driver's personal and professional situation.
Some ride-hailing drivers offer their services on a platform (or on multiple platforms at the same time) for only a few hours per week or even per month, while others do so more extensively. Some drivers can also offer their services in the street hailing market. This varies across countries and cities and reflects the many different ways in which drivers choose to use ride-hailing apps.
According to a 2019 European Commission study (“The future of work? Work of the future!”), many service providers do not develop a professional identity as platform worker and do not consider the option of common representation. The very diverse environment of drivers on ride-hailing platforms, combined with the lack of a professional identity developed by service providers on platforms overall, makes it impossible to simply copy-paste legal requirements of traditional employment with a much more homogenous workforce.
A new framework addressing lack of representativity and exclusivity can be part of the toolkit that governments, platforms and drivers employ to ensure better working conditions and targeted actions.
- The Commission should leverage best practices from different Member States to establish the representation tools and a framework that can be used by drivers while avoiding copy-paste templates from standard employment that would not be perfectly suited for the self- employed.
5. Transparency of algorithmic management
Algorithms have been a crucial factor in the rapid proliferation of new mobility options available to consumers in recent years. The underlying key advantage for ride-hailing companies is to efficiently and smartly pair demand and supply, i.e. combining requested trips by consumers with drivers. This process allows drivers to maximise their revenues and passengers to access the best transportation offer. Efficiency is therefore at the core of ride-hailing platforms. While some applications also offer the possibility of rating passenger-driver interactions, such ratings are never a factor in the allocation of rides, where efficiency is the key criterion.
To offer the best services to consumers and drivers, platforms spend significant resources to create the processes and infrastructures to properly analyse data and improve algorithms. It is therefore worth noting that this is not a cost-free exercise and that the involved information is the intellectual property of a company. The protection of such sensitive business data is crucial for business operations.
Ride-hailing platforms are working towards more transparent systems. However, it must be noted that algorithms are an essential part of their business model. Algorithms are also crucial to detect and address possible fraud and to increase safety of the passengers.
Additionally, platforms have also invested in meaningful human involvement in their processes. For example, a Dutch court recently ruled that a specific system used by Uber is not solely based on automated decision making (as was suggested) but included meaningful human action. Where improvements are needed, including changes to processes, of course, platform providers should take action, as Uber did in this case. This shows that it is important to have a complete and accurate picture of the situation regarding the use of algorithms, also bearing in mind the diverse ways that platforms operate.
Any initiative should build on the strong regulatory framework that the EU has already in place in the area of algorithmic transparency, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Platform-to-Business Regulation (P2B). In addition, the compatibility and complementarity with new initiatives such as the legislative initiative on Artificial Intelligence should be prioritized. Therefore, it will be important to ensure coherent legislation and workable rules for all involved actors going forward.
- Ensure the application of the existing legislative framework in the field of algorithmic management and transparency, including the P2B Regulation and the GDPR.
6. Skills and training
Move EU members believe that access to training and education opportunities are key for drivers, especially since working on mobility platforms might only be one stop in their professional careers. Well- developed skills and professional development have been particularly important for everybody since the beginning of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
Therefore, some of our members have partnered with learning platforms and educational institutions, including the Open University initiative and Babel. Our members also support the general idea of a coordinated contribution of ride-hailing platforms to education and training funds supporting the individual development of independent workers.
- Encourage a coordinated approach and best practices among ride-hailing platforms to support training and educational activities for self-employed drivers.