Uber Eats couriers, mainly from Africa, demonstrated in Paris after the food delivery company accused riders of using fake identities and blocked 2,500 accounts.
Hundreds of Uber Eats riders from Africa, many without French work permits, demonstrated in Paris on Monday after the company kicked 2,500 accounts off its restaurant delivery platform that allegedly used fake identities.
French police said there were around 350 protesters but organizers gave a higher figure of 500.
Many people said they had been working for years with Uber, claiming the company was well aware that its riders are often undocumented migrants who use "borrowed" IDs to open their accounts.
"I was disconnected two weeks ago, but I worked all through the lockdowns (during the Covid-19 pandemic)," 34-year-old Osseni Kone from Ivory Coast said outside the Uber Eats offices in central Paris.
"I'm asking Uber to regularize my situation so I can work freely," he said.
Undocumented migrants affected by auditing practices
The US-based company is facing growing pressure across Europe to hire riders outright as employees, rather than independent contractors, to respect the rights of "gig economy" workers.
In France, that prompted Uber Eats to audit its rider accounts after signing a charter with the government to "harmonize the oversight practices" of its platform.
It said 2,500 of the roughly 60,000 accounts overall were identified as fraudulent, and said riders whose accounts were blocked could still appeal.
"I've worked like this for them for three years," said Ismael Meite, 32, also from Ivory Coast.
"They knew full well that the ID card and the profile photo were not identical but they had no problem with it. We did a huge amount of work during Covid and now they say we're not in order?" he said.
A colleague, also from Ivory Coast but who asked to remain anonymous, denounced his dismissal as "brutal", showing his 99% approval rating from clients on the Uber Eats app.
Uber faces mounting pressure over labor rights
In France, like in many European countries, couriers are required to apply as independent contractors so food delivery companies like Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Glovo can avoid the expenses and taxes associated with employed workers.
Uber and other delivery service operators insist the workers are self-employed, and courts across Europe have issued contradictory decisions -- sometimes forcing companies to provide standard labor contracts, at other times upholding their status as independent contractors.
Last April in France, a Paris court fined the British meal delivery group Deliveroo after finding it guilty of "undeclared labour" for using freelance riders who should have been classified as employees, depriving the state of millions of euros in payroll taxes.
Uber has faced huge criticism in recent months, with ongoing battles over workers’ rights and unpaid waiting times for drivers of its transport service.
Dismissals as growth slows
Food delivery companies saw considerable growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the reopening of restaurants after lockdowns were eased across Europe, demand for delivery services slowed down.
The timing of the dismissals also raises questions, as many couriers were working for the company for several years before being blocked as growth slowed. "Why has [Uber] decided the account is fraudulent after two years of service?," former Uber Eats courier Assimi Aboladji told Wired. In 2020, he applied for an Uber Eats account using someone else’s document because he did not have the right papers. His application was approved, and for the next two years he worked for the platform without any issues before being blocked in August.
Wired reported that many couriers who were disconnected have Italian identity cards, which cannot be used to work outside of Italy. Thomas Aonzo, president of the Independents Union, told Wired that since 2018 Uber Eats has allowed couriers to use these cards to create an account. Italian identity cards are common among asylum seekers in Europe, including people who have entered the EU by crossing the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa to Italy.