The European Commission is setting itself up for creating new legislation regarding freelance work. In many European countries, services such as Uber, Bolt, or Deliveroo are coming under fire because they practice working with freelancers. For instance, the Uber app matches passengers with self-employed drivers.. The driver gets the fare payment via Uber after the subtraction of a commission. Deliveroo and other food delivery services roughly do the same: the courier receives a fee for picking up the food from one of the participating restaurants and bringing it to the customer.
“Halt”, say many countries, “these workers are employees, not freelancers”. In countries such as the UK and France, courts have decided that the American company needs to consider their drivers as employees. The argument here is that Uber has too much considerable decision-making power over the drivers’ fare, working conditions, and work methods.
As a freelancer myself, I am perplexed by this line of thinking. Being self-employed means that I get paid based on a product or service instead of the standard hours under contract. This service is invoiced, paid, and comes with varying degrees of value-added tax. I will then be taxed on this service and asked to pay social security contributions based on my combined annual income. So yes, while it is true that Uber does not pay social security contributions for its employees, these contributions are paid by someone.
Claim: taking care of your own social security contributions is too expensive
For what I am getting in return in healthcare and pensions, that is certainly true. However, that is a government failure that has made these services inefficient and mandatory, not one of self-employed workers who need to pay them. Moreover, if social security contributions make the self-employed status impossible, why are many choosing this lifestyle?
Claim: the platform workers are too dependent on Uber
Indeed, bad Uber ratings or other unilateral decisions can instantly remove a driver from the platform. However, this relationship is a two-way street: independent drivers can choose their own work schedules, passengers, and areas in which they want to drive. Adding to that, they can instantly quit and work for a different company. If governments are worried about the dominant position of Uber, they need to make it easier for start-ups to replicate the business model and confront Uber with competition. This way, workers get a myriad of options to choose from. However, let’s not pretend that every lay-off is a tragedy. Some workers are objectively bad because they have no respect for safety or customer service, and getting rid of these bad actors is a curation that platforms need to assure.
Having worked as a freelancer for a while now, I know first hand how companies can kick you out from one day to another without prior notice. That is the risk of my profession and requires me to get proper insurance and a financial structure that allows me to have a plan B. At the same time, this structure allows me to organize my own work hours, independently of the interests of the people I work with. I am not tied to a desk, a boss who looks over my shoulder, a traffic jam to get through in the morning, and I don’t need to make friends with Janet from accounting because we shovel into the parking lot together each morning. I get to take a nap in the afternoon, go grocery shopping when nobody else is out, or decide not to work when the weather outside is nice. I don’t need a politician to tell me that this is somehow a “precarious work environment” or explain to me how predatory bosses use me. These are the tradeoffs of being a freelancer. Getting to make your own choices and being responsible for those decisions is the essence of being self-employed — but I would not expect those who live their whole lives off of the state’s resources to understand this.
Will I change my mind about my own situation eventually? Maybe. Nobody ought to say no to a good contract. I will say no to bureaucrats getting in the way of how I would like to do my job. And yes, that flexibility is a right, which belongs to a Deliveroo courier as much as for an Uber driver.
Bill Wirtz is a political commentator from Luxembourg. His works have been published in The Times of London, the Washington Examiner, Newsweek, Die Welt, and Le Monde.