Not all of Just Eat’s orange-clad couriers were switched to salaried contracts, with the company continuing to use freelancers hired through outsourcing companies to fulfill some of its orders. Under French labor law, workers and unions have four months to fight Just Eat’s restructuring. If they lose, Rioux expects the lost contracts to be replaced by workers who work technically for Stuart, a French outsourcing company. Going from a Just Eat employee to a gig worker would be a big change for Stuart, he says. “Stuart couriers have basically no rights, they are paid by delivery and access to social protection is very low.” Stuart declined to comment.
France is not the only country where workers’ rights are being rolled back. Gorillas, a grocery delivery app that pledged not to use gig workers since its inception, is shutting down operations across large parts of Europe. In places like Belgium, the withdrawal of Gorillas means its couriers are losing access to fixed employment contracts and company insurance, and are instead returning to work as freelancers on 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 under ever-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 experience changes. “Before December, Paris was divided into zones: Paris southeast, southwest, northeast, northwest, center,” a Paris-based courier told WIRED, requesting anonymity. “In January, everything merged. Everything has become ‘Paris’. That means I’ve been taking orders from across town since January.” Now he says he can cycle more than 50 kilometers a day and finish 20 kilometers from home at the end of his shift.
In Gorillas’ home country of Germany, the company has submitted a proposal to the local works council to give its fastest 25 percent of couriers access to better shifts.
Europe is ahead of other countries, such as the US, when it comes to protecting rig workers, and the European Commission is preparing new rules that would govern the rig economy. But even if brokers earn guarantees that they will earn a minimum wage, the dynamics of the fast-delivery industry make it difficult to sustain those gains, says Katie Wells, who researches platform workers at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. . “There are such small margins in this workplace and companies are so unequally distributed with power that workers have no ability to retain any of the protections they’ve been given,” he says.
Instead, the contradictions of the gig economy persist. While investors doubt it’s possible to employ couriers and turn a profit, some workers’ rights advocates question whether the economics of the delivery industry mean good working conditions can exist. Wells says he hasn’t seen an example yet. “Is it possible? Sure,” he says. “A lot of crazy things happen in the world.”