The French-speaking labour court in Brussels has declined to order the food delivery service Deliveroo to treat its couriers as full employees instead of freelance collaborators.
Belgian labour law has a provision that bans employers from treating as freelancers workers who fulfil all of the conditions of a fully-fledged employee: including a fixed place of work, regulated hours, a fixed salary and so on.
The case was originally brought by employee representatives, including the two labour unions ABVV and ACV, to the labour inspectorate, which then sent the matter to the labour tribunal for a ruling.
The unions had brought the original complaint to the inspectorate at the end of October, complaining that the company was using a false definition of self-employed status to deprive delivery workers and others of certain rights enjoyed by full-time workers, including paid sick leave and holiday leave, as well as accident insurance.
At the same time, the couriers did not enjoy the full range of freedoms enjoyed by genuine freelance workers, including a fixed rate of pay, and the right to decline certain deliveries.
The labour inspectorate, in the first instance, ordered the company to review the contracts of its delivery staff, changing the status from ‘participants in the sharing economy’ to fully-fledged employees, with the appropriate social protections.
However the labour court declined to follow that reasoning.
Meanwhile other delivery services, among them Gorillas and Eat Takeaway, do employ their couriers as staff members, leaving Deliveroo wondering if it will be able to continue employing couriers on less advantageous terms than the competition.
In other countries, De Tijd reports, the results have been very different. The Spanish courts have ordered Deliveroo to change it model; the rulings went the opposite way in the UK and France, and now Belgium. In the Netherlands, in the meantime, the case is still to be decided before the appeals court.
And now the EU wants to get involved, by declaring that workers for platforms like Deliveroo must be treated as bona fide employees rather that self-employed freelancers, unless the company can show the opposite.