Will Uber soon have to hire its four thousand Dutch taxi drivers? That question was central on Tuesday in the Amsterdam court, during a session between the trade union FNV and the Dutch representation of the American taxi app.
The FNV wanted to enforce clarity through the courts in a discussion that has dragged on for years about the status of drivers affiliated with Uber. They are workers without rights, says the union. No, says Uber. The drivers are independent entrepreneurs, who use the platform to get customers.
Relations between the union and Uber have been seriously disrupted in the past year. The two sides clashed at the end of last year, after an investigation by NRC It turned out that Uber had pressured two hundred tech employees at its international headquarters in Amsterdam to sign a severance agreement. The union and the tech company have been at odds for much longer about the labor rights of drivers who are not employed.
There is no longer a conversation: both parties accuse each other through the media and have no contact. “It was also the first time for me that I was summoned by letter to come to court,” says Maurits Schönfeld, director of Uber Netherlands. “We would rather see that differently.” But the union is no longer interested in consultations, says FNV director Amrit Sewgobind. “Uber is a company, you can talk to it until you weigh an ounce. You don’t get any further. If you want to change something, you have to litigate.”
The highest courts in France and the United Kingdom previously ruled that Uber should not regard its drivers as self-employed workers, but as employees with certain rights. In the United Kingdom, an Uber driver is now a ‘worker’ due to the judge’s ruling, something between a self-employed person and a salaried employee. British Uber drivers have since been entitled to minimum wage and paid leave, but no protection against dismissal, for example. It is a status unknown to Dutch employment law.
Uber uses employer’s authority, evades the taxi collective agreement and erodes employment conditions
Lawyer of FNV
According to the FNV, the relationship between Uber and the Dutch driver is currently such that there is ‘false self-employment’. In other words: Uber has control over the drivers, which it binds to itself through loyalty programs, dress codes and training courses, without giving pension or holidays in return. “Uber uses employer authority, evades the taxi collective agreement and erodes employment conditions,” said FNV lawyer Jan Hein Mastenbroek during the chaotic session – which was continuously interrupted by groups of drivers and union members who attended the session by video but did not turn off their microphones. .
Should FNV win the case (the judge will rule on August 30, both parties have already announced that they will appeal if they do not win), this will have far-reaching consequences for both Uber and the Dutch taxi market. Lawyer Jaap van Slooten, who represented Uber, announced during the hearing that any defeat would have “inhuman consequences” for society, as “the quality improvement that Uber has brought about in the Dutch taxi market will be nullified”.
According to Uber, the arrival of the app has led to lower prices, more transparency and better service for customers in the cities where it operates: Amsterdam, Eindhoven, The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht. The tech company, together with five other platform companies, recently appealed to the cabinet to guarantee the flexibility of all platform workers in the Netherlands, so that they are not ‘forced’ into an employment contract.
Also read the NRC research: “That’s what happens when Uber fires employees. ‘If you don’t sign, that’s your choice’
Uber is looking for an intermediate form
Because would it be good news for drivers if they are employed by Uber? When they become employed, the drivers are paid according to the taxi collective agreement, protection against dismissal and they build up a pension. On the other hand, salaried drivers often earn less, have to give up freedom and are tied to one employer.
Uber itself says it would like an intermediate form for its drivers. “We want to maintain independence while offering drivers more protection,” says Uber director Schönfeld. “Last year was a very tough year, so we see that we have to protect drivers better. We want to do that, but not by hiring them all right away.”
It was not clear whether the drivers would like to be employed or rather remain self-employed. FNV said it had spoken with “more than one hundred and fifty” drivers during the session, but could not clarify whether they would also like to be employed by Uber. According to Uber, nine out of ten drivers are happy with a role as a freelancer and the driver is not at all waiting for a contract. The question is how reliable that data is. It emerged from research that Uber had carried out itself.