Fairwork has released a second set of fairness ratings for the German platform economy in their new Germany Report. The report provides an updated look at the country’s most prominent platforms amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and assesses them against Five Principles of Fair Work: Fair Pay, Fair Conditions, Fair Contracts, Fair Management, and Fair Representation.
2021 brought many changes – some related to the ongoing pandemic, and others resulting from worker activism – which have shaped Germany’s platform economy in new ways.
The biggest change was experienced in the food and grocery delivery sector, with new platforms entering the market (Gorillas, Flink, Getir, and Wolt) and competing for greater digital demand by customers and businesses like shops and restaurants. The emergence of these companies introduced new opportunities and challenges for workers. 2021 has also seen the flourishing of a fresh wave of workers movements in the German platform economy, the most notable being the one led by Gorillas workers who, after an almost year-long struggle, were able to set up a recognised workers council.
Besides delivery services, the German ride-hailing and event planning sectors were also affected by the pandemic. As platform activities were brought to a standstill, workers faced the severe consequences of forced work stoppages due to self-isolation, often without access to sick pay or other types of compensation. In the case of ride-hailing platforms like Uber and FreeNow, the report found they failed to compensate for the income lost during lockdowns, and instead expected their workers to rely on government aid. Other platforms (Clevershuttle and BerlKönig), where workers were provided with a safety net, shrunk their work hours (Kurzarbeit), and modified their business models to remain profitable.
But not all is bad. Fairwork’s findings reveal that some German platforms have made conscious efforts in improving and/or upholding fair working practices over the last year, partly thanks to their engagement with Fairwork. An increasing number of platforms were willing to communicate with Fairwork in order to improve their scores. Several platforms, such as Wolt and Flink, are implementing changes like using third party auditors to monitor workplace conditions, Lieferando and Flink are employing workers on permanent contracts, and Zenjob is continuing to implement explicit anti-discrimination and diversity clauses in their terms and conditions.
Similar to the findings of last year’s report, Fairwork’s 2021/22 ratings highlights a wide variety of labour standards in the German platform economy, showing that working conditions, far from being homogeneous, differ significantly from platform to platform. While some platforms, as the report highlights, have implemented policies to offer their workers better rights, overall, there are many additional steps that platforms must take to meet decent labour standards.
Fairwork scores digital labour platforms based on five global principles of ‘fair work’ – Fair Pay, Fair Conditions, Fair Contracts, Fair Management, and Fair Representation. Evidence on whether platforms comply with these five principles was collected through desk research, interviews with workers, and platform-provided evidence. The evidence was then used to assign a Fairwork score out of ten to each platform.
The Fairwork Germany 2021/22 ratings evaluate the working conditions in 12 digital labour platforms, (Zenjob, Wolt, Lieferando, Flink, Careship, Getir, Amazon Flex, Betreut.de, Helpling, Gorillas, FreeNow, and Uber) against five global principles of fair work – Fair Pay, Fair Conditions, Fair Contracts, Fair Management, and Fair Representation. Each platform receives a fairness rating out of 10, with a basic and an advanced point per principle only awarded if there is clear evidence that the principle is fulfilled.
Zenjob leads the table with 9 points, Wolt and Lieferando follow with 7, Flink and Careship each score 6, Getir achieved 5, Amazon Flex sit at 3, Betreut.de, Helpling, and Gorillas 2, and FreeNow and Uber earned 1 point.
- Fair Pay: Most platforms in Germany provide wages to their workers that exceed the minimum hourly wage (€9.60), after costs. But some platforms (Betreut.de, Helpling, FreeNow and Uber), which employ workers on a self-employment, independent contractor or subcontracting model couldn’t prove they meet this basic threshold. Only two platforms (Careship and Zenjob) could prove that they offer a living wage. Lieferando and Wolt came close to the hourly living wage rate (€14.50/hour), but only after delivery and distance (Kilometergeld) bonuses were included.
- Fair Conditions: In food and grocery delivery platforms, warehouse maintenance continues to be a problem, where certain warehouses fail to meet basic safety measures. The equipment provided to workers (i.e. bikes, weather-proof jackets, trousers, and shoes) were evidenced to be either lacking in quality, or not delivered to workers in a timely manner. Promisingly, Wolt and Flink have both introduced third-party auditors to monitor workplace conditions. Some platforms, including platforms in the domestic (Helpling, Betreut.de) and care (Careship) work sectors, did not provide personal protection equipment (PPE) to their workers — expecting workers to pay for face masks, disinfectants and COVID tests out of their pocket.
- Fair Contracts: Germany’s platform workers are offered contracts that are comprehensive, and usually offered in German and English. Data protection is also subject to comparatively strict data regulation legislation. Promisingly, there has been an improvement in contracts, where more workers are being offered permanent contracts. Lieferando has started employing workers on a permanent basis, with other platforms, like Flink, following suit. But other platforms have failed on the contracts front, with FreeNow and Uber embracing a subcontracting business model that leads to limited checks, Gorillas unfairly terminating contracts, and Amazon Flex adding liability clauses that harm worker ratings – actions that are leading to disparities in pay and working conditions.
- Fair Management: Most platforms have human representatives to address queries by workers. The efficacy of these channels, however, is questionable, as many fail to provide workers with an adequate response in a timely manner. In the case of platforms that operate on a self-employment, independent contractor or subcontracting models, workers are forced to resolve problems on their own or directly with clients – leaving them vulnerable to working for exploitative customers in order to maintain their jobs. Despite the high ratio of migrant and female labour in the German platform economy, only 3 platforms (Lieferando, Wolt, and Zenjob) provided evidence of measures to promote anti-discrimination in the workplace or to address discriminatory behaviour by customers and clients.
- Fair Representation: There has been an increase in worker activism this year, leading to the formation of new bodies of worker representation. However, some platforms are hindering this process by obstructing worker activism (e.g. giving workers who attend demonstrations a warning) or by changing their business models to render existing bodies of worker representation obsolete, such as the case of Gorillas in Berlin. Few platforms have functioning bodies for workers to raise their voice in a collective manner, and those that do are usually in early stages of development. Notably, Zenjob started a pilot programme for worker representatives to offer their workers a new channel to raise issues and concerns. Lieferando is currently the only platform in the sample that has multiple Works Councils across Germany. Also, Flink is working towards building a Europe-wide collective body of representation.
The Fairwork Pledge
As part of Fairwork’s commitment to making platforms accountable for their labour practices, we have launched the Fairwork Pledge. This pledge aims to encourage other organisations to support decent labour practices in the platform economy, guided by the five principles of fair work.
Organisations like universities, schools, businesses, investors and charities that make use of platform labour can make a difference by supporting platforms that offer better working conditions. Organisations have the option to sign up to the Pledge as an official Fairwork Supporter or an official Fairwork Partner.
Those signing up to be a Supporter must demonstrate their support for fairer platform work publicly and provide their staff with appropriate resources to make informed decisions about what platforms to use. Becoming a Fairwork Partner entails making a public commitment to implement changes in their own internal practices, such as committing to using better-rated platforms when there is a choice.
In Germany, the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre recently became the first Fairwork Germany Partner. Also, the Berlin Senate Department for Integration, Labour and Social Services, the central sustainability department of the University of Duisburg-Essen (UDE), and the Digital Transformation Centers have signed the pledge as supporters. Join them today in bringing about a fairer future of work!