It would now be virtually impossible to imagine an urban landscape without them: the cyclists from Deliveroo, Foodora and UberEATS. The popular online cleaning platform Helpling, as well, is rapidly growing in popularity. A study carried out by research institute Kaleidos shows that as many as twenty-five per cent of the Dutch use one or more of these start-up service-providers, whilst only three years ago such use was still at only six per cent. Those offer their services via apps, so-called app or gig workers, are however not employed personnel. Their work is classified as ‘platform work.’ Both the national government and their platform regard them as self-employed. But is that right?
Take, for example, the cyclists from the different home-delivery organisations. They earn on a per-trip, not a per-hour, basis. I.e., if they manage to keep cycling fast, they will earn a relatively high ‘hourly wage.’ But they are responsible for insuring themselves against disability and loss of income. To put it succinctly, if such a cyclist has an accident, they are instantly without any source of income. Which explains the two big work stoppages at UberEATS in London in 2016. There have now also been a number of court decisions in which it was ruled that such work indeed involves an employment agreement or, resp., ‘worker status,’ such that the worker involved is entitled to, amongst other things, a minimum wage and holiday pay.
For Dutch employment-law practice, it is no simple matter to find a juristic classification for these ‘gig workers’: take for example the cleaners who work via Helpling. According to numerous interested parties, they fall within the scope of the Home Service-Provision Scheme, which pertains, e.g., to cleaners and service providers who do not work more than three days per week. Uber drivers, too, are free to determine whether they come to work or arrange for a substitute. But the fee – the remuneration – is determined by Uber. Is employment law in the Netherlands in its present form in fact adequately equipped to classify such a legal relationship?
One thing is beyond dispute: the business models of start-ups are not geared for higher prices, nor are private parties: if a shoemaker’s price suddenly doubles, the customer looks for a cheaper shoemaker, even if they are in the informal economy.
In France and Sweden, a step has already been taken toward dealing with the problem. There, customers do pay a higher hourly rate, but then get a substantial part back from the tax authorities. In this way, the shoemaker is protected and stays off the black market. Two drawbacks, though: the government generates no tax revenue and shoemakers who do not work via Helpling are placed at a competitive disadvantage.
Another approach to the problem would be the provision of affordable insurance. In Pennsylvania, for example, Uber drivers can insure themselves at a rate of five cents per trip.
Yet another possible solution could be to create a so-called third status for gig workers who are neither employees nor self-employed. They would be registered and pay tax, but their platform would pay them a higher hourly wage. The question is whether this is such a great idea, and if providing protection should not be the first priority.
What is clear is that a solution to the problem has yet to be found. It is certain to form part of the agenda of a future Dutch cabinet. As we see it, this discussion should be viewed as part of a wider one concerning the jobs market as a whole. If everybody – the clients, the platforms and the gig workers – each make their contribution, it must be possible to find a legal place for new forms of work, so that, in future, new types of professionals do not slip through the cracks.