The Paris Labor Court ordered the VTC Le Cab platform to hire one of its drivers, previously a self-employed person. The president of the federation of auto-entrepreneurs, Grégoire Leclercq, was on franceinfo, Friday, January 6.

A VTC driver during a demonstration in Paris, against the prices imposed by the platforms, December 23, 2016. (CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

A driver affiliated with the Le Cab platform, who had the status of auto-entrepreneur, obtained that of employee of the company, by decision of the tribunal des Prud’hommes de Paris. This decision taken in December is a first in France, but its consequences should, in reality, be quite limited.

However, it will not set a precedent, first of all because the judged facts date back to 2013 – 2014 and the Grandguillaume law (definitively adopted at the end of 2016) now explicitly prohibits any exclusivity clause. Moreover, the decision only concerns Le Cab, and not other platforms, including Uber.

The use of auto-entrepreneurs, practiced as a disguised wage earner: standard or the exception? Grégoire Leclercq, the president of the Federation of auto-entrepreneurs, was the guest of franceinfo on Friday January 6.

franceinfo: Are there many auto-entrepreneurs who could ask, like the employee of the Le Cab platform, to be reclassified as employees, today in France?

Grégoire Leclercq: The use of self-employed workers is very widespread. In 2016, it is estimated that 120,000 auto-entrepreneurs in France, among the million active, worked directly or indirectly for a platform. Today, it is therefore one of the first active work forces to be able to provide services via the platforms. This effectively raises the question of whether these auto-entrepreneurs are self-employed or not, and whether they can ask to be reclassified as employees.

Beyond the VTC platforms, in many sectors companies ask employees to take this status, so as not to pay charges …

The model is not quite that one. The platforms ask auto-entrepreneurs to have this status in order to have flexibility, not so much to avoid salaried employment. This is the case in the VTC sector, transport, catering, moving, accommodation, crafts, graphics, hairdressing, etc. It’s everywhere. These platforms want to be able to manage an order that arrives on demand and sometimes there are very many during peaks. But the rest of the time, the platforms do not want to have employees in their hands. The clarification to be made is that the social cover is paid by the self-employed persons themselves.

Hence the interest for the employer: does this seem normal to you?

One could say that this is not normal, insofar as they could pay them. However, in the economic model of all these platforms, none is today able to pay them. This is a model with strong competition, so the platforms seek to have the most aggressive prices possible to convince as many consumers as possible, while maintaining flexibility.

What do your members say about it? Does the status of auto-entrepreneur suit them or is it a default choice?

Being a self-employed person in France is often a default choice. 60% of auto-entrepreneurs do it as an income supplement, so they are salaried on the side and have less financial problems. But 40% of them do it by default, first and foremost because they have not found a job either on permanent or fixed-term contracts. It is for them the last opportunity to keep a foot in the economic activity, to earn an income. I remind you that the average income is 410 euros per month, which has again been confirmed by INSEE.

The daily life of the auto-entrepreneur is not even knowing whether he will be well protected in two years, but to make ends meet. And when you have 410 euros of income and a platform offers you 400 more, you take them!

What is the typical profile of the French self-employed person?

You have two major categories. There are those who are self-employed in addition. They are 60%, either employees, retirees or civil servants? They make 10,000 euros in annual turnover. The remaining 40% come most of the time from Pôle Emploi, earn 410 euros per month on average, which they accumulate with either the Pôle Emploi allowance, or the RSA (active solidarity income) or ASS (solidarity allowance specific). These are very low incomes. 20% are craftsmen, 20% are traders or e-traders, and 60% are in the service profession (liberal, new technologies, home services, personal assistance, gardening, etc.). We have reached a first ceiling.

Since 2014, registrations have been declining. There are 1,120,000 auto-entrepreneurs active in France, including 750,000 with a real economic activity, which will bring about 8 billion in turnover in 2016. This is significant but we have no high increase. This is above all linked to administrative complexity due to the Pinel law of 2014. This law makes the procedures heavier and more costly. So overall, we have lost 20% of registrants since 2014.

Should we reform this statute, or invent another?

We must constantly come back to the profession in terms of business creation and administrative simplification. We can clearly see that new issues arise, as with platforms. Perhaps the question of an economically dependent but financially independent asset could arise. In the context of the presidential election, a second very important subject arises: that of the right to unemployment. We see the positive aspects of self-employment – the return to economic activity, additional income, the impact on consumption and growth – but there are also negative aspects. There is no good social protection, even if it does exist. There are also issues related to motherhood. The retirement is not very consequent. There is a form of economic dependence for a certain number of actors. All these are points for improvement.