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Historic digital platform workers' ruling annulled

The first Portuguese court ruling to recognise an employment contract between a courier and a digital platform has just been annulled. The Lisbon Labour Court annulled the decision because, due to an error in the address, Uber was not heard.

"The service of a legal person, when made by registered letter, must be addressed to its registered office. This did not happen, so the nullity resulting from the lack of service is deemed to have been verified, and the acts that depend on it, namely the decision handed down, are also annulled," reads the case file to which ECO had access.

In February, a Portuguese court took the historic decisionto recognise, for the first time, an employment contract between a courier and a digital platform. But it wasn't long before confusion set in.

Uber made it known that it had not been heard, even though the judgement stated that the defendant had been summoned but had not contested. At the heart of this controversy was a mistake in the address: the Lisbon court mistakenly notified Glovo instead of Uber.

Without having had its "right of defence guaranteed", Uber immediately considered that the decision would "most likely have no effect", which has now been confirmed.

The historic judgement is therefore without effect, and the Lisbon Labour Court has meanwhile notified Uber to submit its defence.

In practice, the case is back to square one, with Uber now having the opportunity to present its arguments against the presumption of an employment contract between the courier and the platform.

There is thus the possibility that, this time, it will be concluded that there is no dependent labour relationship, as has happened in several other courts in the country.

When questioned, Uber emphasised that "couriers have already made it clear that they want to maintain their independence and the freedom to use digital platforms when, how and where they want". "From our side, we will continue to defend that the flexibility that couriers seek must be preserved and that it is compatible with rights and protections that all workers, regardless of their status, should have access to," says the official source.

Four courts uphold the platforms

On Monday, the Bragança Labour Court rejected an employment contract between a courier and Uber Eats, while the Vila Real Court had also taken a similar decision. The Portimão Labour Court dismissed employment contracts between 27 couriers and Glovo.

An Aveiro Court has also rejected the recognition of an employment contract between a courier and Uber Eats.

The judge argues that it is the courier who chooses his place of work, that his remuneration depends on the deliveries made and that there is no timetable to follow, but that he chooses when to switch on and off the app.

But consensus is far from being established among Portuguese courts. At the end of March, the Castelo Branco court recognised an employment contract between four couriers and Uber Eats. The platform announced that it would appeal the decision.

At the root of all these cases is the law that came into force in May, which provides for the possibility of couriers being recognised as dependent workers of the platforms, as long as signs of subordination are detected. With this legislation, the Labour Conditions Authority (ACT) has opened hundreds of cases, which have reached the courts.

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