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French court fines Deliveroo for ‘undeclared labour’

A Paris court has fined British meal delivery group Deliveroo after ruling it was guilty of "undeclared labour" for using freelance riders who should have been classified as employees, depriving the state of millions of euros in payroll taxes.

A Deliveroo food delivery driver on a scooter
A liveried Deliveroo food delivery driver on a scooter in Toulouse. (Photo: Georges Gobet / AFP)

It was the latest move by European courts to recognise the rights of “gig economy” workers used by start-ups and other firms, which often claim they are simply go-betweens for clients and independent contractors.

The court ordered the maximum fine of €375,000 sought by prosecutors and also handed suspended one-year prison sentences and €30,000 fines to two former French executives at the company.

A third executive got a suspended four-month sentence and a €10,000 fine for complicity in the system, and Deliveroo was also ordered to pay €50,000 each in damages to five labour unions who joined the case as plaintiffs.

State prosecutor Celine Ducournau had sought in vain to question Deliveroo’s American founder and CEO Will Shu over a “fraud” that gave “all the benefits to the employer… without any of the inconveniences.”

“The question is not to determine if the status of independent contractor is appropriate, but to acknowledge that in this instance, Deliveroo used a fake legal arrangement that did not correspond to the reality of how the delivery riders work,” the presiding judge said in her ruling.

A Deliveroo spokesman said the company “categorically contested” the decision and said it was considering an appeal.

“Our business model offers our deliverers the flexibility they need and which they tell us they appreciate,” he said.

Legal grey area
More than 100 Deliveroo riders were plaintiffs in the case prosecutors opened in 2015 but which got fresh impetus in 2020, when France’s URSSAF agency in charge of employer social security collections demanded millions of euros in back payments.

Several riders told the court they had sought jobs that offered scheduling freedom only to find intense pressure to work at peak meal times, strict oversight of their routes and days off, and penalties if orders weren’t delivered fast enough.

Deliveroo France had already been found guilty of undeclared labour in a civil case in February 2000, when a court sided with a rider seeking to be recognised as an employee and not a contractor.

URSSAF is seeking to recover some €9.7 million from Deliveroo, and a court had already ordered in 2020 the seizure of €3 million in Deliveroo’s account while the case was ongoing.

The ruling comes as the European Union is taking aim at the business model of gig economy companies like Deliveroo and the ride-sharing service Uber, with plans that could force them to reclassify their workers as fully-fledged employees.

The companies insist the workers are self-employed, and courts across Europe have issued contradictory decisions – sometimes forcing companies to provide workers with standard contracts, at other times upholding their status as independent contractors.

In December, Deliveroo won a case in Belgium where a court found that riders did not have to be requalified as employees, with the requisite social security and tax obligations.

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CRIME

French courts drop rape case against film director Luc Besson

The Paris court of appeal on Tuesday confirmed the dropping of rape accusations against French film director Luc Besson, one of the highest profile controversies of the #MeToo era in the country.

French courts drop rape case against film director Luc Besson

Dutch-Belgian actress Sand Van Roy had accused Besson — director of the “Fifth Element” and “Leon” — of raping her over a two-year on-off relationship, and filed a complaint against him in May 2018.

Prosecutors dropped the case in February 2019 citing lack of evidence, but a new investigation was opened later that year after Van Roy brought fresh charges.

A French magistrate then closed the case in December 2021 and prosecutors asked for it to be dropped in April.

Besson had always denied the accusations, describing the case in 2019 as “a lie from A to Z”.

“The court confirmed my client’s innocence… Luc Besson regrets these four lost years,” his lawyer Thierry Marembert said after the verdict.

But Van Roy’s lawyer Antoine Gitton said an appeal would immediately be filed for his client with France’s Court of Cassation.

Besson has admitted having a relationship with Van Roy, who had minor roles in his films “Taxi 5” and “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”.

She filed the initial complaint for rape in May 2018 hours after meeting Besson, before filing another complaint two months later for other alleged rapes and sexual assaults.

At least three other women have made allegations of sexual harassment against Besson but he has always denied all the allegations.

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