Trade unions accuse Uber of unfair influence on platform workers' rights

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By Vincenzo Genovese
An Uber Eats delivery person rides a bicycle through a commercial district in Tokyo, Japan Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022.(AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
An Uber Eats delivery person rides a bicycle through a commercial district in Tokyo, Japan Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2022.(AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)   -   Copyright  Shuji Kajiyama/Copyright 2022 The AP

European trade unions have accused tech-giant Uber of unfairly influencing an EU directive aimed at strengthening the rights of platform workers.

Last December, the European Commission proposed a set of measures to improve the working conditions of people that work for platforms like Uber or Deliveroo. Now, trade unions are arguing that these proposals are being unfairly influenced.

On Tuesday, a demonstration was held outside the European Parliament aimed at protesting the strong lobbying activity made by some tech companies.

Ludovic Voet, Confederal Secretary at the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), told Euronews his organisation is worried about the sway the company has on lobbyists and European lawmakers.

"In July the Uber files were disclosed and it shows that Uber has escape strategies to not respect the rules and that they also have had contact with politicians, and that they are lobbying hard to avoid legislation," he said.

More than 100 people from different European trade unions took part in the demonstration.

The ETUC argues that Uber increased its budget for lobbying from €50,000 to €700,000 over the last eight years, demonstrating, in part, its intentions.

According to the so-called Uber files revelations, the US-based company co-opted MEPs, European Commission staff and national representatives at the highest level.

MEPs hear from Uber whistleblower

A hearing was held in the European Parliament at the same time as the protest to assess the impact Uber and other similar platforms have on EU policy-making.

Marc MacGann, the company’s former chief lobbyist turned whistleblower, explained some of the activities of the company when he worked there.

"When politicians tried to stop us or slow us down, we co-opted democracy itself, by leveraging consumers' political power, putting very public pressure on elected officials to back off, drowning them in millions of rider petitions," MacGann told MEPs Tuesday.

"We told politicians that we would agree to stop the controversial illegal UberPop service if they change the law in the way that we wanted. We weaponised our drivers and we weaponised our customers."

He also said that the research that was presented to European lawmakers was not properly independent.

"When I was at Uber, we paid academics to use skewed datasets to produce numbers that favoured Uber’s position," he said. 

"The data would show high earnings because the data didn’t take into account the time that the drivers were waiting between one trip and another."

The EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF is also investigating the case of Neelie Kroes, a former EU commissioner who allegedly lobbied on behalf of Uber during her cooling-off period when ex-Commissioners are supposed to remain neutral for a period of time following.