Whether Uber is a transportation company or a technology platform has long been at the heart of the discussion of its legal responsibilities with its third-party contractors. With the array of other products it offers in some parts of Latin America, including Uber Moto (which operates in a legal gray area) and Uber Live (a food ordering service for concerts), the line got more blurry.
In Chile, Uber has added to the controversy. Last week, the country’s Senate passed the so-called Uber Law: a bill that considers the company and its kin as transportation apps and demands specific responsibilities from them, such as insurance for all cars, riders, and drivers.
But in 2022, Chile also passed a law that effectively turns all gig workers, including ride-hailing drivers and delivery workers, into employees. Uber Eats, its parent company Uber, and similar companies they work for are considered digital service platforms in that piece of legislation. Among other things, these companies are now legally bound to provide delivery workers with their work and safety gear: helmets, gloves, and backpacks.
“The civil responsibility of transporting people is different from that of transporting, say, a hamburger. That’s why the two legislations had to be made,” Angélica Salgado, president of the workers’ union for Cornershop, a Chilean grocery delivery app acquired by Uber, told me. Uber was quick to contest the gig worker law, placing a complaint against the Labor Direction, a department within the Ministry of Labor and Social Security last November, saying that it’s only an intermediary between workers and customers and should not be expected to suddenly have legal responsibilities for its 18,000 delivery workers.
The courts were quick to dismiss the complaint, but the legalese Uber is now flexing might snowball into larger unintended consequences. The newest contract Uber Eats sent to delivery workers mentions that by wearing the Uber Eats-branded backpacks to transport food, which they have to purchase themselves, they are able to offer a “marketing and brand positioning service for the company.”
Juan Andrés Cabrera Lillo, founder of Rayo, a B2B logistics startup from Santiago — and, ironically, former marketing manager at Uber Chile — considers this a stretch too far, suggesting that Uber might be trying to avoid complying with the new legal requirements. Salgado says that despite the gig worker law passed, the Chilean government still isn’t enforcing it. In the meantime, just by wearing their backpacks, Uber Eats delivery workers in Chile are effectively human billboards, inadvertently waiting for a new legal loophole they might be made to fit in so that the company keeps its third-party contract business model.