Workers are battling Uber and other giant economy giants

In a battle between workers and the giant economy, Uber scored a rare victory on Monday when a California court upheld a state law that allowed the company to treat its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

The ruling bucks a broader trend of courts ordering on-demand, app-based companies like Uber and Deliveroo to increase the employment rights of their drivers and riders.

AFP looks back at some of the cases that have hit the headlines in recent years.

UK gains union protection

In May 2021, Uber agreed a “historic” deal with a British union to represent its 70,000 drivers in the UK, after a court ruling awarded them workers’ rights.

As part of the deal, Uber secured employee status for its UK drivers with benefits including a minimum wage and paid holiday.

In June 2022, Uber also signed an agreement with the Australian Transport Workers Union to give more protections to its 100,000 drivers and couriers.

Spain pioneers ‘rider law’

Spain was the first country to regulate the status of people who deliver food by bicycle or scooter.

The August 2021 Rider Act mandated that they be treated as employees rather than self-employed freelancers.

Deliveroo left Spain immediately.

In February 2023, attention turned to Amazon when a labor court ruled that more than 2,000 people who use their cars to deliver packages for the company must be placed on the company’s payroll.

France is pressing

France’s highest court ruled in March 2020 that the contract between Uber and its 28,000 drivers in the country is an employment contract.

Two years later, a Paris court fined Deliveroo 75,000 euros ($405,000) for “undeclared work”, saying its freelance riders should have been classified as employees.

Deliveroo appealed the verdict.

Small achievements in Italy

In December 2021, food delivery companies in Italy agreed to spend millions to improve conditions for their 20,000 drivers to avoid threatened fines of €730 million.

Most riders are still considered independent contractors, however, only a small number of Just Eat riders are hired under contracts that entitle them to minimum wage.

Account of platforms in Belgium

While the recent decisions broadly favor workers, there have also been victories on the other side.

Since 2021, two court rulings in Belgium have supported claims by Deliveroo and Uber that their drivers and chauffeurs are independent contractors, not employees.

Both judgments were appealed.

An EU-wide push

The European Commission published a proposal in December 2021 to help around five million platform workers in its 27 member states determine their employment status.

The criteria include whether the app determines workers’ pay levels, makes requirements about their appearance, or limits their ability to quit.

The draft rules were approved by European lawmakers in February, but must still be approved by member states.


US President Joe Biden’s administration in 2021 blocked a rule passed under former US President Donald Trump that would have prevented gig workers from demanding minimum wages or overtime, signaling a possible boon for worker protections.

California has been at the center of a battle between platforms and lawmakers.

In 2019, the state voted to recognize gig economy workers as employees, but digital giants including Uber and Lyft funded a referendum that effectively overturned it a year later, in a move upheld by an appeals court this week.

Brazil fights against “slave labor”.

Brazil’s leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he worked for companies such as Uber, Taxi 99 or food delivery services iFood and Rappi and promised reforms.

In Sao Paulo, the government has launched an Uber rival that will start operating this month and that will give drivers a higher percentage of revenue.

China is joining the fray

China’s Ministry of Transport in December 2021 called on the country’s response to Uber, Didi and other platforms to improve conditions and wages for their workers.


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