Platform economy in the context of industrial relations and social dialogue: evidence from France

Platform economy in the context of industrial relations and social dialogue: evidence from France

Dr. Mehtap Akgüç

Recent developments in the technology have far-reaching consequences in the forms of work as well as the access to work. In particular, the online platforms have been transforming the labor markets and how the work is performed. Many developed and developing countries have been experiencing significant transformation as a consequence of these changes. Looking at the number of platforms and users of it, France comes out as one of the frontrunners when it comes to platform economy, not just in Europe but throughout the globe. Several large platforms have originated from France and found large user bases across countries. From the labor and industrial relations perspective, the country also poses an interesting case: despite rapidly declining rates of unionization across sectors (less than 10% on average), the unions are very powerful and the majority of the workers benefit from collective bargaining in the economy. As regards the digital economy, the regulation of issues are decentralized through sectoral social dialogue.

Against this background, France constitutes an interesting case study to analyze the developments in platform economy not only in terms of the laws that directly impact platforms and platform workers, but it also has been a host to new forms of organizations representing platform workers, which attempted direct negotiation with large and widely-known platforms. The objective of this paper is to provide a case study for France by looking at its industrial relations and social dialogue in the context of platform economy, by providing interesting insights from various roles and activities of stakeholders and the way they interact with each other. Given its experience not just in terms of actual laws being passed addressing platform economy, but also in terms of the mobilization of platform workers in an organized way puts France in a particular and unique place compared to other European counterparts and gives interesting insights for similar issues in other countries.

The main contribution of the paper is at least four-folds: for one, it analyzes a country in which research on the platform economy is just emerging and mainly done in the local language so far. For two, by combining different methods and data collection exercises, the paper provides a relatively robust and detailed information on the issues at stake. Next, by studying the industrial relations and social dialogue, the paper is able to overview the perspectives of various stakeholders ranging from government officials and policymakers to representatives of employers and employees as well as platform owners and workers in a context, where all these actors are rather active, compared to other countries. This allows to have a balanced and comprehensive research with many interesting social dialogue instances. Fourth, the paper goes beyond secondary data sources and collects primary data via interviews with various stakeholders and focus group discussion with platform workers deepening the understanding of the discourse, perceptions and experience of the platform workers. The primary data collection exercise complements the secondary sources of data and information on the issues under study.

The main findings of the paper is that compared to many countries France has experienced the most significant developments in platform economy in the context of industrial relations and social dialogue. For example, the recent labor law (Loi El Khomri) that passed in 2016 pays particular attention to the work done through online platforms, by aiming to regulate certain aspects of platform economy and relatedly increase the rights of the workers. For example, among others, the law requires the platforms to provide insurance for accidents at work as well as right to continued professional training. With this law, the platform workers also have the right to take collective action and constitute a trade union or be a member of it, as it is a common right for salaried employees. Another law, looking more specifically at the transport sector (Loi Grandguillaume), addresses the issues experienced in that sector and regulates the entry to the market by large platforms.

On the social dialogue sphere and new forms of organization, France is host to the first formal example of an organization of platform workers, called SCP VTC, composed of mainly Uber drivers. Under a mediator appointed by the government, this organization sought to negotiate price-setting and working conditions with the largest online platform, Uber. Other smaller scale example of a new forms of worker organization related to the sector of delivery on bike, where Deliveroo, Foodora and Stuart are the major relevant platforms in France. The major example in that context is CLAP (Collectif de Livreurs Autonomes de Paris), which collects independent workers doing delivery tasks for those platforms. Finally, there are some initiatives of organizing between cleaning workers through platforms; however, their existence is not yet formalized as the former two.

In terms of methodology, the paper adopts a mix-method approach combining desk research of reviewing economic and legal documents as well as conducting descriptive analysis using web data and online survey data. The web data analysis shows the recent trends in the platform economy, for example, by showing trends in the most frequent items on platform economy in search engines. It also gives further insights on the evolution of the discourse of platform economy across different actors (e.g. government, workers, social partners, academics, etc.). The survey data is collected via online survey distributed to a large scale of platform workers. To complement the empirical analysis, the paper also conducts primary data collection through interviews with relevant stakeholders and focus groups with platform workers.