A national strike in France against Uber Eats’ new payment system on December 2-3 could be the largest in Europe yet, and exposes Emmanuel Macron’s ‘social dialogue’ system for the gig economy.
Uber Eats has a problem in France. On Saturday [December 2], a two-day national strike begins which could be one of the largest ever in the history of the food delivery sector in Europe.
The strike, called by the unions CGT, Union-Indépendants and SUD Commerces, comes in response to fury among food delivery couriers over Uber Eats’ new payment system, which was introduced nation-wide on 1 November.
Wildcat strikes broke out when the system was first piloted across the north of the country. Riders say their pay rates have plunged. Analysis by Union-Indépendants finds that the average pay per delivery is down between 10-40%. As the system has been rolled out across the country, the anger of riders has spread with it.
The blame not just directed at Uber Eats, but also the government. Last year, President Emmanuel Macron introduced a new government body, the Employment Platforms Social Relations Authority (ARPE), which was supposedly designed to provide real representation for gig workers via ‘social dialogue’, as an alternative to employment rights.
The ARPE arbitrates between platforms and worker representatives who were elected by a very small number of food delivery couriers (just 1.83% of riders participated). In April, the ARPE negotiated an agreement for a Minimum Hourly Income for riders of €11.75 per hour of activity. Many of Uber Eats’ 65,000 riders in France thought their pay would rise as a result.
Indeed, Uber Eats promoted their new payment system to riders with a messaging stating that it was “a minimum income guarantee of €11.75 per hour of activity,” i.e. accomplishing the ARPE agreement. But riders have instead seen their pay fall, with two of the unions which participate in the ARPE, CGT and Union-Indépendants, now walking away from the social dialogue table to lead strike action.
Can food delivery couriers in France really strike and win? And what does the strike say about Macron’s social dialogue model, in the context of eleventh hour negotiations over whether platform workers should be considered employees in the EU Platform Work Directive?
To discuss this, the Gig Economy Project spoke to Ludo Rioux on the eve of the strike. Rioux is a member of the executive committee of the CGT union and responsible for the union’s work in the food delivery sector. Rioux was formerly a rider for Deliveroo and Stuart Delivery, and is currently delivering for Just Eat.
The Gig Economy Project: What are the demands of the strike?
Ludo Rioux: The strike is a response to the new pricing system of Uber Eats, but this is just the straw which broke the camel’s back, because the wages have gotten so low in recent years. This new pricing system was just too much.
But the demands of the CGT and the other unions are directed towards the whole food delivery sector, which is largely composed of Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Stuart Delivery.
The key demands are that the new pricing system is scrapped, that pay is made transparent and that there is a significant increase in remuneration.
The CGT also demands that the waiting times are paid and that the platforms establish their work model so that riders can access the social security system.
GEP: Uber Eats claim that some shorter journeys are now paid less and some longer journeys are now paid more, but that the average pay is roughly the same as it was before the new payment system.
LR: As a trade unionist, I only trust what I see, and so far we have seen no explanations about the new pricing system, so why would we believe them? They don’t provide any calculations to justify their arguments.
We know that riders die at work and the platforms don’t even respond to this, so how can you trust these people? None of the riders take any notice of Uber Eats’ propaganda.
GEP: We have seen a tweet from your union highlighting pickets and demonstrations taking place in 29 French cities; a genuinely national strike. Is this going to be the biggest strike in the history of France’s gig economy?
LR: We think it could be, because there really is a lot of participation. The working conditions are so bad that people are desperate and they are ready to struggle to improve the situation.
The biggest strike in France so far was organised by the CGT in December 2020. We had actions in more than 20 cities but in some places the participation was not big. With the meetings we have had to build this strike, it looks like it could be bigger than in 2020.
This time we know that more than 50 cities will have strikes, and maybe more that we don’t know about yet. Of course, we don’t know how many will participate exactly because there is no data, but there will be thousands of riders on strike and we know in these 50 cities that there will be demonstrations and pickets.
it’s very interesting to see that the diverse communities which work in the food delivery sector have all come together around this strike. We have made so many links with the Bangladesh community of riders, for instance. It shows that despite the racism that exists in this country, all of the workers can unite against this pricing system.
GEP: Have you had any response from the platforms to the planned strike?
LR: We have informed the ARPE [government social dialogue body] about the strike. We have had a response only from Uber Eats, the other platforms, Deliveroo and Stuart Delivery, did not respond. Uber Eats said they would be willing to open new negotiations about the pricing system for the whole sector.
Uber Eats has said they would raise the minimum income per hour of activity from €11.75 to €14. They have also said they will clarify their system for calculating pay.
However, this does not address the problems we have with the Minimum Hourly Income and they have not been willing to commit to showing the numbers behind their system for calculating pay, so it’s purely cosmetic. This will not stop our strike from going ahead.
GEP: Why does CGT not agree with the Minimum Hourly Income approach?
LR: First of all, the only union to sign the Minimum Hourly Income agreement at the ARPE in April was the National Federation of Self-Employed and Microentrepreneurs, which hardly represents any riders.
The Minimum Hourly Income only calculates the amount of time a rider has been delivering, not the waiting time, which is a big red flag for CGT. Then, each month, the platforms divides the rider’s income by their delivery time, and if this income is under €11.75 per hour, the platform makes up the difference so that it reaches €11.75.
The first problem is that this is not enough money, because with the time only spent delivering the food – not including the waiting time, which is a lot of time – you should always earn more than €11.75 per hour.
Secondly, the Minimum Hourly Income is an average, meaning all of the shifts you do on Saturday and Sunday nights – which are the shifts that earn you most of your money – are included in this calculation, which levels up the average of the very cheap deliveries in the rest of the week when demand is lower.
So for all of these reasons we were against this agreement and would not sign it, because we thought that signing this would be a downward pressure on wages, and that is what has happened.
GEP: The ARPE has been promoted by the French Government as a means for platform workers to get fair representation. Is that how it works in practise?
LR: The ARPE works as it should, because it is not a tool for improving workers’ rights, it’s a tool for the capitalists and for the government to impose a new status, a third status [between employee and self-employed]. It does this by using agreements with the signature of unions for legitimacy, which is why CGT, which was elected by riders as a representative union, has not signed any agreements with the platforms to date.
We thought that the ARPE would mainly be used as a way to influence public opinion, and we were right. Some of the unions agree that riders don’t need to have the same rights as other workers, and as the CGT union we can’t agree with that.
There will be a new election to the ARPE next year and we have not decided yet whether CGT will participate in this or not. To speak of new elections to this body in the context of what is going on now – the terrible working conditions of riders – I don’t think it’s very respectful to the workers.
GEP: The French Government has consistently been one of the EU member-states most opposed to a strong Presumption of Employment in the Platform Work Directive, and has specifically argued at the Council of the EU that France’s social dialogue model, organised through the ARPE, is an alternative way of protecting gig workers than employment rights.
Does this strike indicate that Macron’s social dialogue model may not be a good alternative?
LR: I am going to put this in a very pragmatic way. We have the government in the European Union which is the most favourable towards the gig economy, a government which has been one of the greatest propagandist’s of the third status, with a President who was exposed as a lobbyist for Uber in ‘The Uber Files’, which implemented a new form of legislation in France in order to frame ‘social dialogue’ as something which happens outside of workers’ rights. Isn’t it interesting that despite all of this, despite everything that has been done to make the gig economy work, riders in France are still not happy? How could they be, when the working conditions are still so bad?
What must be understood at a national and international scale is that riders in France consider that nothing in this country is done in their interest, and that it’s not Macron-style reforms which will allow people to get more rights.