KU Leuven: Research finds harrowing working conditions among Belgian platform workers

A new study shows that five of the largest platform companies in Belgium do not offer fair working conditions. The research project at the Center for Sociological Research (KU Leuven) and in collaboration with the University of Oxford assessed the benefits of Takeaway, Ring Twice, Deliveroo, Yoopies and Top Help. Employees of those platforms described dire circumstances, such as violations of the minimum wage, unclear contracts and a lack of access to collective representation.

This is the first study to rank the employment conditions of Belgian meal delivery and healthcare platforms based on five fair work principles: fair wages, fair terms, fair contracts, fair governance and fair representation. Takeaway, the only surveyed platform offering employment contracts, scored 6 out of 10. Ring Town, a Belgian start-up, finished in second place with 4 points. The other companies scored either 1 point (Deliveroo) or 0 points (Yopies and Top Help).

In the survey, platforms in the healthcare sector (Top Help and Yoopies) scored the worst. Valeria Pulignano, professor of sociology at KU Leuven, explains: “Our research shows how care platforms tend to ignore existing regulations in order to encourage informal work. Consequently, workers perform a consistent amount of unpaid work in the form of unguaranteed minimum wages and a lack of social security.”

The results of the report indicate how, despite the strict regulations and strong position of the trade unions in Belgium, employees of digital platforms fall outside the sectoral collective labor agreements. This situation has serious consequences for working conditions: workers are exposed to wage dumping and dangerous conditions and their right to collective representation is limited.

Key findings
Only two platforms (Takeaway and Ring Twice) guarantee a minimum wage after fees. Employees are not covered by the collective labor agreements.
Only one company (Takeaway) was able to prove that it protects against occupational risks.
Three of the six platforms – Deliveroo, Ring Twice and Takeaway – were able to demonstrate that they offer clear, transparent and accessible terms.
Only Ring Twice and Takeaway showed that decisions about employees are made according to the right procedure.
No platform complied with the principle of fair representation, which means that Belgian platform workers cannot rely on institutional channels to influence decisions that impact their jobs.
Despite the efforts of some platforms, the low scores for the five companies indicate that regulatory reform and enforcement is imperative. However, the differences in scores indicate that poor working conditions are not inevitable. Platform work can also mean honest work. This first report creates a reference point for the current state of the Belgian platform economy. The Fairwork researchers plan to continue to study platform work development and review the assessments annually.

Our research shows how healthcare platforms tend to ignore existing regulations to encourage informal work.

– Valeria Pulignano

Response Deliveroo
Deliveroo has questioned the study results in a response to the investigation. The company emphasizes the high employee satisfaction and the benefits it offers. “We ensure that the research has been conducted accurately and objectively, which is guaranteed by Fairwork’s peer-reviewed review process,” said Professor Valeria Pulignano. “The score given by Fairwork reflects whether platforms guarantee certain minimum standards for all employees, regardless of their employment status. Even if employees are offered benefits and are satisfied, that does not mean that all minimum thresholds for fair work have been met. Moreover, our research shows that other (platform) companies do succeed in offering ‘flexibility’ to their employees while guaranteeing certain minimum standards.