Reaction to Uber whistleblower testimony at the EU Parliament

We recognize that whistleblowing based on the principles of transparency and integrity is essential for the good functioning of our democracies. —  Dragoș Pîslaru, Committee Chair of European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee

Mark MacGann, former head of public policy at Uber and the whistleblower behind the Uber Files, testified before the European Parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee on October 25th, in what Committee Chairman, Dragoș Pîslaru called, “a historic moment for the Parliament.” The Uber Files refers to the 124,000 documents MacGann provided to The Guardian this year and a subsequent series of stories by The Guardian and The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ (ICIJ) 42 media partners in 29 countries.

At the hearing, MacGann made a powerful case for the need to right the ship and provide employment protections for the tens of millions of people working for digital platforms in the EU, and around the world. The committee is currently debating the Platform Work Directive, a policy that will help govern the employment relationship between workers and the platforms.

The hearing drew international media attention due to the significant revelations and Platform Work Directive’s potential impact for tens of missions of workers. Coverage included stories in Politico (Global), The Guardian (UK), El Pais (Spain), ICIJ (Global), Euractive (EU), EuroNews (EU), ANSA (Italy), and others.

In the debate around the directive, platform companies are arguing against employment protections for workers. MacGann spoke out about the hypocrisy in that argument, saying: “Platform companies that deny their workforce basic labour and human rights in the name of a zealous, stubborn, libertarian belief that “flexibility” is what workers value most, are being dishonest with governments, misleading with investors, and in the harsh economic context we live in, are being cruel to the millions of women and men on whose backs their businesses were built.”

In addition to revelations around worker conditions, The Uber Files also revealed the out-sized influence Uber had with politicians in Europe. During the hearing, MacGann reflected on his role as head of public policy: “In the legislative debate on the rights and protections of platform workers, power and influence are disproportionately skewed towards the interests of the big tech platforms. I know better than anyone. I was part of that powerful lobbying machinery… When tech companies have disproportionate financial resources to push their message, at the expense of the far less powerful workers upon whom their model is built – there is something truly undemocratic happening.”

The legislators at the hearing showed their unanimous support for the rights and protections of whistleblowers like MacGann, with members across the political spectrum offering a standing ovation at the end of his statement.

In his opening statement, Committee Chair, Dragoș Pîslaru, said, “The European Parliament and the Employment and Social Affairs Committee attaches great importance to the role of whistleblowers in preventing, detecting, and reporting irregularities and misconduct of businesses and public entities alike…The Parliament has stood in the past and is still staying together and standing for this particular help that we can get from whistleblowers.” Lucia Duris Nicholsonova, Platform Work Directive coordinator for the political party Renew, added, “I applaud [MacGann] for your courage. In Renew, we strongly feel about whistleblowers and we think that you should be very well protected and very appreciated for what you do.” Kim van Sparrentak of the Greens party added: “Let me thank you Mr. MacGann for coming forward first of all as a whistleblower to denounce the practices of Uber. I really think it shows the importance of the protection of whistleblowers and also why we as the European Parliament should stand very firmly for their rights.”

On November 2nd, MacGann will address the Web Summit about how digital platforms can still provide opportunities and positively disrupt traditional economic models without destroying them.

The Signals Network is providing legal and advocacy support for Mark MacGann.

Story by Ben Grazda, November 2nd, 2022

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