A cross-country comparison of worker and regulator responses to the platform-based food-delivery sector in Australia, the Netherlands and United Kingdom

A cross-country comparison of worker and regulator responses to the platform-based food-delivery sector in Australia, the Netherlands and United Kingdom: Is there an increasing ‘app-etite’ for regulating work conditions?

Dr Alex Veen Dr Caleb Goods Dr Thomas Barratt
Scholarly Teaching Fellow Lecturer Lecturer
The University of Sydney The University of Western Australia Edith Cowan University

The emergence of the platform-based segment of the gig economy, where work is facilitated through intermediary online platforms, has given rise to new forms of work organisations (De Stefano 2016). To date, the weight of scholarly attention has been placed on working conditions and regulatory responses around ride-sharing services (e.g. Prassl & Risak 2016; Rosenblat & Stark 2016). Research is also emerging on the food-delivery sector (c.f. Goods, Veen & Barratt 2017; Huws et al. 2017), which highlights the challenging and problematic working conditions and arrangements within this segment of the platform-economy. The dominant platforms in this space (Deliveroo, Foodora, UberEATS) (increasingly) categorize their workforces as ‘independent contractors’, unilaterally change the terms and conditions of work, and appear to pay below minimum wages levels (e.g. Parkinson 2017)

Ride-sharing and food delivery have shared characteristics, such as work facilitated by online/mobile platforms, high levels of irregular work hours, the shifting of risk onto workers, and payment practices based on a piece-rate systems (see Cherry 2016). Nevertheless, regulators and workers have taken an increasingly pro-active approach to engaging  the ride-sharing phenomenon (Anderson & Willingham 2017; CBB 2017), yet thus far there has been a lesser appetite, or a lagged response, in terms of confronting problematic working conditions within the food-delivery sector. This has resulted in increasing worker dissatisfaction and industrial disputation in some countries, for example, the United Kingdom (Cant 2017) and the Netherlands (Van Unen 2018), however in others like Australia responses have been more muted (Goods, Veen & Barratt 2017).

This exploratory cross-country comparative qualitative case study (Creswell 2013) assesses both ‘worker’ and ‘regulatory’ responses to the classifications and working conditions in the food-delivery sector across three developed nations: Australia, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Since the 1980s, all three countries have pursued labour market reforms aimed at increasing flexible work arrangements (Bonoli 2017). Consequently, all three score relatively low on the OECD (2015) indicators concerning employment protection for temporary forms of work, highlighting a generally supportive regulatory regime for flexible work.

Extending upon our original research on worker experiences within the Australian food-delivery sector, we draw upon semi-structured interviews with over 50 workers operating for two of the major platforms as well as extensive document analysis. Relying on a range of secondary sources for the latter – including newspaper articles, public policy documents, court transcripts, and company documents – we explore both worker and regulatory responses to the hyper-flexibility found in the platform-based economy. Adopting a traditional industrial relations perspective (Kochan 1998), the paper presents an overview of the contemporary state of concluded and pending court cases, e.g. around determinations of the legality of the utilized worker classifications. We discuss initiatives of worker organising and mobilization. Finally, we assess other regulatory responses, e.g. by policy-makers. In our analysis we contrast and compare developments across the three jurisdictions.

Reference list

Anderson, S & Willingham, R 2017, Levy compromise leads to agreement on legalising ride-booking services like Uber in Victoria, ABC. Available from: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-24/uber-bill-compromise-reached-with-greens/8642170.

Bonoli, G 2017, Labour market and social protection reforms in international perspective: parallel or converging tracks?, Taylor & Francis.

Cant, C 2017, 'I’m a Deliveroo rider. Collective action is the only way we’ll get a fair deal ', The Guardian, 31 March 2017. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/31/deliveroo-organising-wages-conditions-gig-economy.

CBB 2017 College van Beroep voor het bedrijfsleven Amsterdam.

Cherry, MA 2016, 'Beyond misclassification: the digital transformation of work', Comp. Lab. L. & Pol'y J., vol. 37, p. 577.

Creswell, JW 2013, Qualitative inquiry and research design: choosing among five approaches, 3rd edn, SAGE Publications, Thousand Oaks.

De Stefano, V 2016, 'The Rise of the "Just-In-Time Workforce": On-Demand Work, Crowdwork, and Labor Protection in the "Gig-Economy"', Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal, vol. 37, no. 2, pp. 471-504.

Goods, C, Veen, A & Barratt, T 2017, 'Being exploited and breaching your visa: the limited choices of the food delivery worker', The Conversation, 21 August 2017. Available from: https://theconversation.com/being-exploited-and-breaching-your-visa-the-limited-choices-of-the-food-delivery-worker-82589.

Huws, U, Spencer, N, Syrdal, DS & Holts, K 2017, Work in the European Gig Economy: Research Results from the UK, Sweden, Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy FEPS, UNI Europa, University of Hertfordshire, Brussels.

Kochan, T 1998, 'What is distinctive about industrial relations research?', in K Whitfield & G Strauss, (eds), Researching the world of work, pp. 31-50. Cornell University Press, Ithaca.

Parkinson, HJ 2017, '‘Sometimes you don’t feel human’ – how the gig economy chews up and spits out millennials', The Guardian. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/oct/17/sometimes-you-dont-feel-human-how-the-gig-economy-chews-up-and-spits-out-millennials.

Prassl, J & Risak, M 2016, 'Uber, Taskrabbit, and Co.: Platforms as Employers-Rethinking the Legal Analysis of Crowdwork', Comp. Lab. L. & Pol'y J., vol. 37, p. 619.

Rosenblat, A & Stark, L 2016, 'Algorithmic Labor and Information Asymmetries: A Case Study of Uber's Drivers', International Journal of Communication, vol. 10, pp. 3758-3784.

Van Unen, D 2018, 'Opnieuw staking bezorgers Deliveroo ', Het Parool, 11 January 2018. Available from: https://www.parool.nl/amsterdam/opnieuw-staking-bezorgers-deliveroo~a4556399/.