Ride-hailing company Uber has struck a deal with the Belgian socialist union ABVV-BTB to start a dialogue on the working conditions of its drivers in Belgium — a “first of its kind within the EU,” both parties said.
Under the cooperation, Uber and trade union representatives will meet once a quarter, discussing topics of concern for drivers and health and safety issues. Drivers can choose for themselves whether they want to be represented by the union. The union expects it will bring the voices of “thousands of drivers” to the table.
The negotiations, however, will dodge the trickiest question of whether drivers are independent contractors or employees. Even more so, both parties have “agreed to disagree” on the topic. Drivers don’t have to be employed to be represented by the union.
EU lawmakers are currently mulling a Commission proposal that would reclassify platform workers as employees when a platform exerts a certain amount of control over the worker. The Commission has estimated that this would be the case for up to 4.1 million gig workers. Uber has said the proposal could have “serious unintended consequences,” like job losses.
Social dialogues like the new one in Belgium are Uber’s preferred way to deal with social tensions.
In February, Uber already signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF), a global federation of 700 transport workers’ unions, to open negotiations on working conditions and benefits. Belgian socialist ABVV-BTB is an affiliate of the ITF; its deal with Uber gives teeth to the earlier memorandum.
“This agreement marks a new chapter for Uber in the EU, one of collaboration with unions and a commitment to driver representation,” Laurent Slits, Uber’s head of Belgium, said in a statement.
Some countries have pushed for a social dialogue between platforms and their workers, instead of reclassification as suggested on the EU level. French ride-hailing drivers and food-delivery couriers vote in April for their representatives in a nationwide social dialogue, which has kicked off in the meantime.
The timing of the Belgian deal is not by chance. On Friday, a new regulation aligning taxi and Uber drivers enters into force in the Brussels region. Since ABVV-BTB has a long history in representing the taxi sector, it was “the right partner,” Slits said. “They know this sector inside out.”
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