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French delivery people mull class action lawsuit as foodtech firm goes bust

Eric Feferberg, AFP | Bikers working for Food delivery service Deliveroo enter a restaurant to pick up meals they will deliver, on March 31, 2016 in Paris.

A collective of French food delivery couriers is considering a class action lawsuit against Take Eat Easy, an online delivery business that ceased trading on July 26.


The firm’s fleet of couriers aims to be reclassified as employees instead of independent contractors to recoup lost earnings.

The Paris Courier Collective (Collectif des Coursiers Franciliens) said on its Facebook page that it was organising a class action lawsuit to reclassify its delivery people as employees to make them eligible for compensation after Take Eat Easy went bust. Several restaurant owners and couriers told French media that they were not paid for meals or deliveries made between the end of June and July 26.

“We are talking with a lawyer who is specialised in this sort of issue to see who would be eligible to be reclassified as an employee,” Matthieu Dumas, the head of Paris Courier Collective, told FRANCE 24.

The group, which represents 700 independent contractors who use their own bicycles to deliver food, hopes to recoup some of the money lost when the Belgian foodtech company filed for “judicial restructuring”.

“For some couriers, it’s a small amount of money, around €200 to €400. For the regular ones, it’s more like €2,000 to €4,000. And there is even a rider who lost €20,000 because he didn’t regularly withdraw the money earned through Take Eat Easy,” said Dumas.

Dumas himself didn’t lose any money in the company’s bankruptcy. In his last few months of collaboration with Take Eat Easy, the young Frenchman made between €1,300 and €4,000 per month.

‘Uberisation’ of the economy on trial

Dumas said that the class action lawsuit was not intended as a crusade to shake up the online food delivery’s business model, but rather as a way to ensure that Take It Easy couriers were paid through France’s employee insurance programme, the Assurance de garantie des salaires. This state-sponsored scheme, which is funded by compulsory contributions from employers, guarantees that employees receive compensation in case of bankruptcy.

“Otherwise, we are so far down on the list of creditors that we have no chance of getting paid,” said Dumas.

The lawsuit would be the latest challenge to the “uberisation” business model that shifts key business expenses – for insurance, vehicles and compensation costs – onto those doing the work.

The flagship of the so-called sharing economy, the multi-billion-dollar car service Uber has also been navigating a legal minefield for the last few months, paying off unhappy drivers and even leaving a major US city that attempted to regulate ride-sharing companies. In France, Uber is at the centre of an ongoing legal dispute with the official body that collects social security contributions, which is also seeking to force the company to reclassify its drivers as employees.

“This [delivery lawsuit] is the third major legal test of the uberisation of the economy. This decision will have a resounding impact -- it would affect 220 platforms trading in food, transport, relocation, hotel and tourism,” Grégoire Leclerq, founder of the Observatoire de l’uberisation thinktank, told FRANCE 24.

The ‘subordination’ question

Like Uber, Take Eat Easy first presented itself as nothing more than software that connects independent contractors with customers.

To be categorised as employees, the couriers would have to prove that there was a “link of subordination” to the foodtech firm. Under French law, “subordination” is defined as the “execution of work under the authority of an employer who has the power to give orders and directives to control their execution, and to sanction the breaches of his subordinates”.

Dumas of the Paris Courier Collective told FRANCE 24 that Take Eat Easy had a system of reprimands, known internally as “strikes”, that allowed the company to sanction riders if they cancelled their shifts less than 48 hours before. Even if couriers were allowed to work when they wanted, once they took a shift, they had to accept the time slots defined by the company.

However, the Observatoire de l’uberisation’s Leclercq doubts that these arguments will be enough to convince judges to reclassify the couriers as employees. Noting that 70% of them worked with different online platforms, including direct competitors such as Foodora or Deliveroo, Leclercq said that it would be difficult for most couriers to portray themselves as “economically dependent” on Take Eat Easy as required by law.

“This case is likely to drag on for years and it will create an atmosphere of legal uncertainty,” warned Leclercq. “And it could end up putting the brakes on future rounds of funding for such platforms.”

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