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Uber: Parties agree on emergency proposal but opposition remains

Illustration picture shows a driver using the Uber app in Brussels. (BELGA PHOTO PAUL-HENRI VERLOOY)
05:51 30/11/2021

The majority parties in the Brussels government, with the support of several opposition parties, have reached an agreement on a transitional measure for the capital’s Uber drivers. After meetings late on Monday, emergency measures were submitted for approval which could see Uber drivers back to work by 10 December. Two thousand drivers have been prevented from working since last Friday, after a ruling by the Brussels court of appeal.

The agreement on a temporary solution follows discussions last week on the government’s ‘taxi plan’, the long overdue reform of the sector, which would also solve the problem surrounding the status of Uber drivers with LVC licences – those allowed to transport people, and the use of the Uber application. The results of those discussions were met with opposition from the cdH – Belgium’s humanist democratic party, and from the Uber drivers themselves who said the measures did not go far enough.

This in turn led to the negotiations which took place Monday. In concrete terms, the emergency solution which was agreed upon will amend or suspend a number of articles from the ordinance from 1995, the current taxi legislation, which the court of appeal referred to when essentially making use of the Uber app by drivers illegal in Brussels last Wednesday. However, the agreement is by no means unanimous. The Ecolo party and the French-speaking Socialists, the party of Brussels prime minister Rudi Vervoort – the driving force behind the taxi plan, do not support the measures.

"We got what we wanted,” said Christophe De Beukelaer, a cdH member of parliament. “We have a transition period and the possibility to have a calm debate about the taxi plan."

The parties that support the proposal hope that a vote on the measures can successfully take place on 10 December. "From then on or at the latest on 13 December, the drivers would be able to return to work," said Brussels MP David Weytsman from the Reformist Party. "This agreement is a victory for anyone who has fought against the Socialists’ stubbornness to restrict an entire sector."

In the meantime, parliament can begin work on the final legislation for the entire taxi sector. However, this will take some time because the necessary advice still needs to be requested and consulted with the sector.

"This agreement means that the taxi plan can be discussed and amended in a calm way, while the Socialists wanted to force the plan quickly," added De Beukelaer. "The transition period would last until 22 August. So, we have six months to work on a real taxi plan."

Until the proposal on the transitional measure is approved, the approximately 2,000 affected drivers will have to remain off the road. De Beukelaer believes that it is now up to Uber to do something for the drivers. "Parliament is now taking a step in the right direction. I would appreciate it if Uber now also did something for the drivers," says De Beukelaer. "The drivers will not be able to work for another 15 days. Uber may be able to give compensation to its drivers during that time, or it may be able to take a risk by activating the app now."

But whether the transitional measure will actually be approved next week remains to be seen. The parties that submitted the proposal - Défi, the Greens, and Open VLD - have 20 seats. Together with the opposition parties that already support the proposal - cdH, the Reformist Party and the New Flemish Alliance - it's 42 votes in favour. That is not enough for a majority in a hemicycle with 89 seats.

"We still have to see what some parties will do when they get the text in committee. Most parties have not yet seen the text," said Arnaud Verstraete of the Greens. "And will the Socialists and Ecolo vote against, or will they abstain? That makes a big difference."

The signs on that front are not positive. On Monday, Ridouane Chahid, group leader of the Socialists in the Brussels parliament, said the proposals were "dictated by Uber, a multinational that exploits people and does not respect labour and social rights".

"What is happening now is a scandal,” Chahid said. “Instead of looking for a legitimate solution for the drivers, some colleagues are transferring their legislative power to a multinational that has been convicted of unfair competition and the illegal execution of taxi services. Certain parties prefer to guarantee Uber a few more months of income, which does not even cover the skyrocketing debts of this multinational, which has been convicted in all the countries in which it operates. It gives me a pain in my democratic heart."


Written by Nick Amies