The Fairwork project based at the University of Oxford says Uber’s recent white paper on the regulation of gig work in Europe downplays the responsibility of platforms to improve conditions under existing legal frameworks, according to the Oxford researchers.

Uber’s recently released paper “A better deal; partnering to improve platform work” highlights real problems faced by gig workers, including precariousness, low pay, and lack of access to social protections. The Oxford researchers commend Uber for acknowledging these issues. However, they argue that the paper also serves to shirk responsibility for improving conditions, while demanding an exemption from employment laws. Though framed as a call for better working conditions for ride-hailing drivers, the paper actually calls for law change to legitimize a lower level of protection for platform workers, than most European workers benefit from.

Fairwork researchers highlight that the release of this document reproduces Uber’s strategy in California, where after the state introduced new regulation that would have extended employee benefits to platform workers, they and several other prominent platforms successfully pushed for a watered-down alternative. Their approved ballot measure, Proposition 22, exempts platform-based rideshare and delivery workers from classification laws that would ensure them the benefits and protections of employment. The company’s extension of their fight to Europe comes shortly in advance of a February 19th ruling in a UK Supreme Court case challenging the classification of drivers and the European Commission’s consultation with workers and employer representatives to inform gig economy regulation on February 24th.

Professor Mark Graham, Oxford Internet Institute, part of the University of Oxford and Director of the Fairwork project said:

“Uber asserts that it is dependent on regulatory change to address the challenges workers face. But it is already well within their locus of control to improve conditions for its drivers under existing legal frameworks.”

In recent years, gig economy companies have faced mounting legal challenges around the world amidst a rising tide of public and worker dissatisfaction with the insecure and precarious conditions offered by many platforms, including Uber, Deliveroo, and others. These companies typically operate on a business model in which their workers are hired as independent contractors without the legal protections owed to employees, including a minimum wage, participation in social insurance programs, safe working conditions, and collective bargaining rights.

Graham added “Whilst we applaud Uber’s awareness of the need for change, we urge them to live up to their call. The company has long set the blueprint for the gig economy, and, perhaps more than any other actor, is positioned to enact immediate change to improve the lives of their workers”.

Analysis of Uber’s employment practices based on the Fairwork principles, the world’s first ever fairness framework for working conditions in the platform economy, shows that Uber has repeatedly fallen short in many of the countries in which it operates around the globe. Across the three countries Uber has been scored in so far, the company has been unable to consistently document that they pay all workers the local minimum wage, mitigate risks, have due process for decisions affecting workers, or provide mechanisms for workers to voice complaints.

Concludes Graham, “All workers deserve living wages and safe working conditions. The conditions of insecurity faced by gig workers are the result of choices made by platforms, and our Fairwork rankings demonstrate that better labour standards are possible within the current regulatory framework.

Employment law was created to ensure these basic rights; work arranged via a platform does not require some radical new approach.  We need to strengthen and expand existing labour protections in order to improve conditions, not create additional exclusions and exemptions that leave millions behind. Uber’s white paper is an attempt to narrowly define the parameters within which the debate about platform working conditions can take place, corporate lobbying masquerading as progressivism. Exceptions from employment law might be limited to sectors like driving and delivery today, but could soon become the norm for a much wider range of jobs throughout the labour market.”

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Notes for editors:

About the OII

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) is a multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet. Drawing from many different disciplines, the OII works to understand how individual and collective behaviour online shapes our social, economic and political world. Since its founding in 2001, research from the OII has had a significant impact on policy debate, formulation and implementation around the globe, as well as a secondary impact on people’s wellbeing, safety and understanding. Drawing on many different disciplines, the OII takes a combined approach to tackling society’s big questions, with the aim of positively shaping the development of the digital world for the public good. https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/