As the Platform Work Directive passes, is Just Eat turning its back on employing its riders?

A dispute over job cuts in Paris has turned into an international movement of Just Eat riders, who accuse the company’s CEO of saying one thing in public and doing another in practice.

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Picture by @CharlesCulioli

On Friday [26 April], food delivery couriers from France, the Netherlands and Germany descended on Just Eat Takeaway’s headquarters in Amsterdam. 

A video shows the workers with their familiar orange jackets and bags shouting: “We want more pay, Takeaway!” 

The international protest, the second in the space of a month, has been sparked not by a pay dispute, but by a redundancy plan. Just Eat plans to end its in-house ‘Scoober’ service in Paris completely, with 100 riders set to lose their jobs. 

The job cuts are part of a move back to an independent contractor model in France, despite the company’s CEO, Jitse Groen, being publicly on the record as an advocate of employment status in the food delivery sector.

“Flexibility is a false argument given by large gig companies to avoid paying minimum wage, taxes and social security,” Groen once tweeted.

Has Just Eat turned its back on workers’ rights for its couriers, just as the EU Platform Work Directive is finally in sight?

From self-employed to employed, and back again

In 2020, shortly after Just Eat merged with Takeaway[dot]com, the company became the first major food delivery platform in Europe to announce that it was moving to an employee model for its riders.

“We feel very strongly as a business that affording couriers the protections that come with this model is the right thing to do,” Just Eat’s then UK managing director Andrew Kenny, who is now the company’s Chief Commercial Officer, said. “We’re fortunate that as a successful and profitable and market leading business that we’re in a position to do so.”

Over the following two years, the company began employing its workers across Europe, albeit often via sub-contractors. But by the second half of 2022, Just Eat’s plan to eventually employ all of its riders began to go into reverse. 

A new financial environment of high interest rates and inflation put pressure on all food delivery platforms’ bottom-lines. Just Eat’s risky takeover of GrubHub in 2020 proved to be a major error, with the company putting the American platform up for sale just two years later. An open letter from leading investor, Cat Rock Capital, accused Just Eat’s management of “a catastrophic destruction of equity value in the past two years.”

Groen responded by firing riders. In France, the company axed 269 jobs in 26 cities, but promised to keep the Scoober service in Paris.

“We are not going to abandon the employment model,” Meleyne Rabot, Just Eat France’s former general manager, said at the time.

In December 2022, Just Eat signed a collective agreement with Force Ouvrière (FO), the main union representing Just Eat riders in Paris, that promised no more redundancies of food delivery couriers for at least two years.

“It’s because of that agreement that they were able to re-structure their model with the agreement of the unions,” Philippe Pradal, the lawyer for the FO food delivery couriers, tells the Gig Economy Project. 

But just over a year later, Just Eat announced it was scrapping its Scoober service altogether in France “as part of its ongoing goal of improving efficiency”. 

Pradal says the move is a clear legal breach of the collective agreement and is negotiating in a bid to convince the company not to go through with it. But he says that if the workers are fired before December, Just Eat will be liable to pay significant damages to the affected workers. 

Asked about this by GEP, Just Eat neither confirmed nor denied that they had broken the collective agreement.

“Our current priority is to ensure both impacted couriers and employees get our full support during this time,” a Just Eat spokesperson said. “We would like to continue the negotiations in good faith and on reasonable terms to ensure we can provide clarity and security for employed couriers.”

France and the Platform Work Directive

It’s not just in France that Just Eat has rowed back on an employment model. In the UK, the Scoober service was also axed last year. Riders in other countries where Just Eat continues to employ them, like Germany and Spain, may be looking nervously over their shoulders. Yet publicly, Groen continues to advocate for employing riders.

Groen has cut against the grain of his fellow platform CEOs by supporting the Platform Work Directive, a regulation that will establish a legal presumption of employment for platform workers in all 27 member-states of the European Union. 

When speaking to reporters as the the Scoober service was axed in Paris, Groen said it was necessary because the company was operating at a competitive disadvantage with rival platforms like Deliveroo and Uber Eats which hire their workers on a self-employed basis, keeping their labour costs to a minimum while Just Eat pays minimum wage and social security. He criticised the French Government for frustrating the passing of the Platform Work Directive, which could level the playing field in the food delivery sector.

“I think it’s a shame that European governments, especially the ones that have very stringent strong [labour] beliefs, such as France, are opposing this legislation,” Groen said.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been the most vociferous opponent of employment status in the platform economy, but he was defeated in the Council, the body which represents the member-states in the EU, on 11 March, when 25 countries voted in favour of a compromise text on the Platform Work Directive, with only France opposing and Germany abstaining. The passing of the PWD was confirmed on 24 April, when the European Parliament backed the text.

Groen has celebrated the passing of the PWD, but the EU regulation – which must be transposed into national law within two years – has not led to a re-think about the job cuts in Paris yet. 

This may be because the Platform Work Directive allows each member-state to design their own legal presumption of employment, which could give Macron the flexibility to continue to deny riders and other gig workers employment contracts in France.

Deliveroo CEO Will Shu, a firm opponent of employment status in the food delivery sector, has expressed confidence that his riders will not be employed in France because “national law will continue to determine final employment status decisions as is the case today.” 

However, Pradal believes that it is not so straight forward.

“Regardless of what the French government says, the Platform Work Directive has been adopted, and even though it will need to be translated into French law and this may take some time, from a legal standpoint once the Directive is adopted courts cannot take decisions that go against it, they can’t ignore it,” the labour lawyer tells GEP.

“What that means is that independent drivers and riders can ask the courts to be made employees, relying on the Directive, even before the Directive becomes French law. The playing field is going to be levelled in the next coming months.

“That’s why Just Eat’s timing [in making redundancies in Paris] makes no sense.”

Fears for undocumented colleagues

With the redundancy plan still going ahead, Pradal and the Parisian riders are seeking to use all methods possible to pressure Just Eat’s management into a re-think, not least because 12 of the 100 riders are undocumented and currently going through a process of regularisation, whereby they can attain the right-to-work legally. For these riders, losing their jobs could lead to not just unemployment but also deportation. 

Under the terms of Macron’s new immigration law, passed in January, workers found to be without official papers can be deported for up to three years.

“All these people have families and could be in a terrible situation if nothing is done for them,” Jérémy Graca, a food delivery courier at Just Eat in Paris since November 2020, tells the Gig Economy Project.

Graca, who is a trade union representative for FO at Just Eat, says that if he is fired he will not work for Just Eat on a self-employed basis.

“The working conditions at Just Eat are already disastrous, so there is no way I would work as an independent contractor for them,” he says.

“The advantage of the employment status is it creates a space for negotiation that doesn’t exist with Uber Eats and Deliveroo.”

But the fight to save the jobs isn’t over yet. Graca and his colleagues plan to go back to Amsterdam once more on 21 May, and this time they will have colleagues from many more countries joining them, including Italy, Spain, Hungary and Slovakia. 

“Our struggle is part of the struggle all over Europe against the company,” Graca says. “We are building a common front because it is a similar situation everywhere.”

He has a simple message for Groen.

“Stop hiding and come talk to us.”

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