when status and working conditions struggle to find the right model

On Tuesday, January 11, a bicycle delivery man, Delivroo, aged 16, died in Lille, crushed by a truck. The teenager was under the legal age to officially work in this company. A dramatic accident that once again underlines the difficult working conditions of these new employees working for delivery platforms.

In France, like him, that would be between 55,000 VTC drivers and 60,000 bicycle deliverers. And above all, their numbers are constantly increasing: home delivery has grown spectacularly with the pandemic. According to a Crédoc study from May 2020, 20% of French people have meals delivered at home, in Paris and in the big cities that is even 35%. And for Pascale Hebel, director of the consumer and business division of Crédoc, “There can be no turning back, the movement has begun and will continue.”

Meal delivery: the new fad of French city dwellers

Despite the uncertainty, the desire to remain independent

Despite the increasing demand, the ways to practice this profession remain very precarious. “It’s the modern mine”, summarizes Jonathan Cadot, employment lawyer at Lepany & Associés, who knows the sector well. Longer working hours, low wages, lack of recognition, risk of accident: this is the common fate of these 21st century workers who are not employed but self-employed. They connect to online platforms that provide them with a task to complete, and receive compensation for this delivery, when the platform is casually reimbursed.

For Fabian Tosolini, project manager at Independent Union, a subsidiary of the CFDT that defends these assets, drivers and deliverymen have no other way of making ends meet than chaining the hours: “That is not without problems in terms of safety, for them, but also for the travelers or the goods they transport”† And it is not without reason that we are often far from the maximum 48 hours per week for employees, imposed by European legislation. Often we come close to double.

Yet many delivery drivers refuse to switch to salaried employment, a status that is more protective. As Tarek, 30, delivery driver in Marseille, who wants to remain absolutely independent and works for many platforms such as Uber Eats or Delivroo:

“I love the relationship with the customer, but especially the freedom of this profession. I choose when I work, when I connect, if I were an employee it wouldn’t be possible. †

Tarek has done his math: he can earn between 80 and 130 euros a day, with time slots alternating between 11 am and 2 pm and in the evenings between 7 and 10 pm. And a shame, if he travels between 150 and 250 kilometers a day on two wheels. However, after three years of practice, Tarek is campaigning for improvements in working conditions, such as minimum income for peak hours, or even bonuses in bad weather…

“Everything may not be perfect, but we must not forget the improvements we have made in a very short time”defends Bastien Pahus, General Manager, at Ubert East, one of the industry’s leaders.

For example, once they register on the platform, since 2017 – and the El Khomri law – deliverers benefit from the Axa insurance, which covers their medical costs in the event of an accident, but also compensates for work stoppage or injury . The American giant also insists on prevention and awareness actions in the event of accidents: training, partial coverage of equipment, helmets or specific jackets…

Start of the structuring of the social dialogue in the sector

To promote the rights of these new assets, Fabian Tosolini is relying heavily on the first professional elections to be held between 9 and 16 May. All organizations and collectives that want to present themselves can do so between January 24 and February 18. Those who collect at least 5% of the votes cast will be recognized as representatives.

It remains to be seen who will vote. Both transactions are fragmented and by definition individual. The risk of abstinence is also very high. Mobilizing employees is already difficult, so self-employed people even more sonotes Fabian Tosolini.

“The appointment of these representatives should then make it possible to make agreements within the platforms about pay, health at work and vocational training”estimates the Minister of Labor Elisabeth Borne.

It remains to be seen how the employers’ organizations will be structured. The 120 platforms identified in France are struggling to agree on common interests and are rather in a competitive logic. In the absence of a professional federation, there is an organization, the API. A sign that if the notion of social dialogue is gradually gaining ground, it is far from optimal.

subordinate status

However, for Gilbert This, economist and research professor at Néoma, it is through this that the protective standards adapted to these new professions will be born. Author, with Jacques Barthélémy of a book “Work and technological change – from the factory civilization to that of the digital”edited by Odile Jacob, he applauds that France is moving in this direction, and that it is not switching to all wage labor as in Spain or Switzerland.

“We have to adapt to the digital age and it is very good that France is trying to build an intermediate status,” he notes.

The French model aims to maintain self-employed status while at the same time offering workers a minimum of security, through a basis of fundamental rights that would be supplemented by additional protection.

However, this path is not that of the European Commission, which is working on a directive to regulate these positions. Last December, the institution submitted a text to guarantee a professional status that corresponds to the current conditions of these activities.

It is a matter of determining, according to defined criteria, whether a platform is an employer by identifying the degree of control it exercises over the employee – according to the degree of pay, the way to control remote working, not a choice of allowing working hours, limiting the employee’s ability to build his own clientele, etc. If two criteria are met, the employee is considered an employee and benefits from all affiliated protections.

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Threat to Jobs of the Giants

A text against which the big VTC principals such as Uber are revolting. They believe that the European Commission’s project risks cutting thousands of driver jobs. Their argument: they will not be able to offer all drivers a minimum number of hours and volumes of work, and the latter, attached to the agility and flexibility afforded by independence, will turn away from this activity. Believe them, what happened in Geneva or Spain, which left less supply for customers. † Everyone is a loser”argues Uber.

In any case, this text – which is being debated within the European Union – will not see the light of day until 2023, if adopted.” Right now, the jurisdiction is groping, under construction. And the issue of subordination, of dependence on the client, is far from resolved.”continues Jonathan Cadot.

READ | Uberization: Are Freelance Platform Workers Becoming Employees?

According to him, “What further complicates the situation is that the situations are very heterogeneous between a consultant who has the resources to negotiate with these platforms or even refuse the proposed missions, and a delivery person, in a precarious situation, who cannot exert influence. There is a gap that the law has not yet closed.”

E-commerce also works with employees

But if much of e-commerce is self-employed, it also has thousands of salaried workers in France. Some are executives, engineers, designers, while others are logistics workers, maintenance workers…

They all work for giants like Amazon, or in companies like La Redoute, La Poste, etc. And there too, given the diversity of situations, it is difficult to find the right legislation.

“The conditions in these warehouses are very difficult, the organization is very pyramidal,” said Jonathan Cadot, who defended Amazon employees. Career plans are very limited and the relationship between employee and boss remains unbalanced”

A description that the leaders of these groups reject. For example, Amazon makes sure that the base salary is 26% higher than the Smic after 24 months in the company, with the payout of a 13th month. Without forgetting the bonuses, free shares that are distributed, a participation that reaches an average of 900 euros per year…

Result: according to the company, the turnover – approximately 10% – is below the sector average – 15%. As for status, Amazon ensures that most of its employees are on permanent contracts, and while continuing its expansion policy in France, it creates hundreds of jobs every year in many regions.

Consumer contradiction

This is also one of the main arguments of the American giant, which today has almost 15,000 employees in France. Just like that of the social promotion offered to unqualified workers or the low-skilled. “We offer solutions to students to complete their studies, to employees who supplement their income with a second activity, or to the unemployed who have no prospects”also insure these companies.

Nevertheless, the death of a temp at an Amazon warehouse in Essonne in mid-January rekindled debate over the weight of work in these logistics hangars and possible security failures.

As for the belief that the pressure can come from consumers, Pascale Hebel of Crédoc puts it in perspective:

“They criticize the working conditions of these VTC drivers or workers who work on these remote sales chains, some are even campaigning against the creation of warehouses in the regions, etc… But they are the first to use them”.

According to her, this contradiction – completely classical – cannot disappear. We will also have to wait a while before an adequate model has been found and applied for these employees.

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