Not all of Just Eat’s orange-clad couriers were switched to salaried contracts, and the company continued to use freelance gig workers hired via outsourcing firms to carry out some of its orders. Under French employment law, workers and unions have four months to fight the Just Eat restructuring. If they lose, Rioux expects the contracts lost to be replaced by gig workers who technically work for Stuart, a French outsourcing company. Going from being a Just Eat employee to a gig employee would be a big change for Stuart, he says. “Stuart couriers have basically no rights whatsoever, they are paid per delivery and access to social protection is very low.” Stuart declined to comment.
France is not the only country where gig workers’ rights are being rolled back. Gorillas – a grocery delivery app that promised not using gig workers from the start — shutting down its operations in large parts of Europe. In places like Belgium, Gorillas’ retreat means its couriers will lose access to the company’s permanent employment contracts and insurance, instead returning to work as freelance gig workers at Uber Eats and Deliveroo. The same thing happened when another German delivery company, Jokr, which hired couriers as employees, pulled out of the US in June.
In countries where the employee model survives, workers are coming under increasing pressure to do more. Just Eat couriers in Paris, who do not expect their employment contracts to be affected by the restructuring, have already started to see changes. “Before December, Paris was divided into zones: Paris southeast, southwest, northeast, northwest, center,” a Paris-based courier told WIRED, asking to remain anonymous. “In January, everything melted together. Everything has become ‘Paris’. This means that since January I have been receiving orders from the other side of town.” Now he says he can cycle more than 50 kilometers a day and end up 20 kilometers away from home at the end of his shift.
In Gorillas’ home country of Germany, the company has submitted a proposal to the local labor committee to give its fastest 25 percent of couriers access to better shift.
Europe is ahead of other countries, such as the US, in protecting platform workers, and the European Commission is preparing new rules that will govern the platform economy. But even if riders win guarantees that they will earn a minimum wage, the dynamics of the express delivery sector make it difficult to hold on to those gains, says Katie Wells, who researches platform workers at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. “There are such fine margins in this workplace, and the companies are so impossibly unequal with their distribution of power, that workers have no capacity to keep any of the protections they’ve been given,” she says.
Instead, the contradictions in the gig economy continue. While investors doubt it’s possible to hire couriers and make a profit, some labor rights advocates wonder if the economics of the delivery sector mean good working conditions can ever exist there. Wells says she has yet to see an example. “Is it possible? Of course,” she says. “There are a lot of crazy things happening in the world.”