The deal negotiated between the Spanish Presidency of the EU and European Parliament interlocutors was rejected by 12 states led by France, while Germany abstained.
THE Council of the EU refused to back a deal for the Platform Work Directive negotiated by the Spanish Presidency, generating an angry response from European parliamentarians and trade unionists, especially towards French President Emmanuel Macron.
The deal would have established a presumption of employment in the platform economy across the EU, as well as providing all gig workers with rights in relation to the algorithmic control of their work.
The meeting of the 27 EU member-states on Friday [22 December] was decisive in determining whether the agreement negotiated last week, which had the support of almost all groups in the European Parliament as well as the European Commission, would pass. With time running out in the Parliamentary term, which officially ends in April 2024, there is now a big question mark over whether there will be a Platform Work Directive at all.
Euractiv reports that 12 states – Italy, France, Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, Republic of Ireland and Sweden – all stated in the meeting that they were opposed to the agreement.* Germany abstained. As it was clear that member-states in favour of the deal only represent 47% of the EU population, no vote went ahead. Under EU rules, 55% of states and 65% of states representing the total EU population are needed for the Council to agree to new legislation.
The ‘blocking minority’ of member-states were said to be annoyed that the Spanish Presidency, which is led on this file by left-wing Sumar leader and Minister for Labour Yolanda Díaz, had negotiated a deal with European Parliament interlocutors in ‘trilogues’ which had not been officially mandated by the Council.
The provisional agreement was stronger on the key question of the presumption of employment than the Council’s proposal, agreed in June. Whereas the Council had proposed that three criteria out of seven was needed to trigger the presumption as well as a number of loopholes for states to avoid the presumption altogether, the provisional agreement was for at least two out of five and with the loopholes closed. The European Parliament had originally proposed a general presumption of employment, as currently exists in Spain for food delivery couriers.
On Wednesday, France’s Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt announced that they would oppose the agreement.
“The provisional agreement is very different from the Council mandate […] and I cannot support it,” he said.
France has been a key opponent of employment status in the platform economy since Emmanuel Macron became President in 2017, and has led the opposition to it on the Council for the two years since the European Commission had originally proposed a presumption of employment in December 2021. Friday’s opposition comes despite the fact that the Renew group in the European Parliament, which Macron’s party sits within, announced it’s support for the deal, with Dragos Pislaru, chairman of the European Parliament’s employment committee, stating that he thought the provisional agreement “will ensure fair working conditions and protect workers”.
Macron’s government has established a controversial system of state-administered ‘social dialogue’ in France’s platform economy, which it has proposed at European level as an alternative form of social security for gig workers to employment status. The Uber Files revelations showed that even before Macron was President, he actively lobbied for Uber when he was in an economy minister in 2015 to defend the company’s illegal entry into the French market.
Ahead of the vote, Elisabetta Gualmini MEP, European Parliament rapporteur on the Platform Work Directive and member of the Socialists & Democrats group, told Euractiv that Macron “risks being the killer of Social Europe” if France opposed the Platform Work Directive, explaining that she did “not understand how France is not willing to give platform workers, who are one of the most precarious category of workers in the EU, basic social rights.”
She added that if the Directive is defeated “lobbies will have won…The governments that will oppose [the text] are conditioned by the lobbies.”
Riders from across Europe who had participated in ‘The Great Delivery’ from Paris to Brussels in November to demand platform workers’ rights had also said before the vote that they would “block the streets of Paris” on Friday to demand that Macron backs the Platform Work Directive deal.
The responsibility will now pass to Belgium in January to pick up the baton of Platform Work Directive negotiations. The Belgian Presidency will have just a few months to strike a deal before the parliamentary term ends in April, with European Parliament elections taking place in May.
The Gig Economy Project understands that the negotiations will not start from scratch, with the failed provisional agreement acting as the text that will now be worked from in trying to find a compromise which pleases both the European Parliament and the Council.
The Belgian Government, a complex coalition of seven parties with the Socialist Party being the largest party within it, has been on the side of the minority of states on the Council which have consistently made the case for a strong presumption of employment and have been most closely aligned with the European Parliament position. However, Belgium introduced its own presumption of employment at the start of the year which was closer to the Council position, and has failed to deliver employment contracts for any food delivery couriers to date. It is generally thought to have a more flexible position than that of Spain, which is the most strongly in favour of employment status among EU member-states.
Responding to the failure of the provisional agreement to pass, Joaquín Pérez Rey, Spanish Secretary of State for Labour, said: “The conservative and liberal governments of the EU prevent the approval of the Digital Platforms Directive promoted by the Spanish Presidency of the EU. A pioneering measure that granted rights to some 30 million workers and 5.5 million false self-employed workers.
“The Spanish Presidency of the Council had reached an agreement that had the support of all political groups in Parliament except the far right. This Directive was inspired by the one known as the Rider Law that came into force in Spain on August 12, 2021.
Yolanda Díaz, Spanish vice-president and Labour minister, added: “Digital platform workers deserve rights. The Directive promoted by the Spanish Presidency guaranteed new rights to 30 million workers, but the far right and the liberals have prevented its approval. We will continue working for a better life.”
Leïla Chaibi MEP, member of France Insoumise who leads the work of the Left group in the European Parliament on platform work, said: “Not content with ruining the lives of the French, Macron is now poisoning an entire continent. By exporting his ideological extremism to the European scene and by not hesitating to ally himself with the worst reactionaries, he torpedoed a concrete advance, a text of general interest for Europeans. To protect his friends from Uber and company. It’s undignified.”
Kim van Sparrentak MEP, who represents the Greens group on platform work, tweeted: “Disappointing that better protection for millions of precarious workers in the EU apparently “goes too far” for, among others, France…”
The European Trade Union Confederation tweeted: “A small minority stops Council approving balanced platform work deal. The Uber Files showed the people stopping progress have been heavily implicated with platform lobbyists. We will work with the majority to deliver rights to platform workers in the New Year.”
James Farrar, founder of Worker Info Exchange, a campaign group for platform workers’ algorithmic rights in the UK, said: “The Council has ruined Christmas for millions of the poorest paid, most exploited workers in Europe. Why? The Council insists on the most obtuse and absurd tests for downtrodden gig workers to prove they are workers and not self employed entrepreneurs.
“This is complete political failure as a result of corporate capture by Uber, Deliveroo, FreeNow, Just Eat and all the rest. Millions of workers most deserving of protection, many of whom are minorities, have been marginalised & abandoned. And we wonder why populism is on the rise.”
The Move EU lobby group, which includes Uber and Bolt, tweeted following the meeting: “Today’s rejection of the agreement on the Platform Work Directive confirms that the current text is not fit for purpose. A presumption of employment is not what drivers want, as they have stated repeatedly survey after survey, letter after letter, petition after petition.
“Drivers want to remain independent, and to be able to run their own business and work across platforms. More legal uncertainty and litigation is not what Member States want, as evidenced by the clear and large rejection of the proposed compromise.”
Jitse Groen, CEO of Just Eat Takeaway, Europe’s largest food delivery platform which employs some of its riders and supports employment status in the Platform Work Directive, said: “Shameful that the country with the most stringent labour laws (France) has torpedoed the Platform Work Directive, which would have given gig workers the rights that all other Europeans enjoy. Fortunately most EU countries have good national laws in place.”
* This information has been updated after initial reports indicated seven states had opposed the agreement.