TOKYO (Kyodo) — Tokyo authorities on Friday ordered the operator of Uber Eats food delivery service in Japan to enter negotiations with a labor union representing its staff, agreeing with the organization that the U.S. company’s unit had been engaging in unfair practices.

The union, formed in October 2019, had been pushing for the operator to negotiate contract terms and seek improved working conditions, but the company had been arguing that those using the platform for work are independent contractors and therefore should not be regarded as workers under Japan’s labor law.

The Tokyo metropolitan government’s labor commission, however, acknowledged that they are part of Uber Eats’ essential workforce even if they do not have employment contracts with the operator.

Uber Technologies’s food delivery service started in Japan in 2016. The rising number of people using gig economy platforms operated by tech companies like Uber Technologies or for work has highlighted the issue of vulnerable workers left unprotected by labor laws as freelancers.

Experts on labor issues and vulnerable workers hope the decision made by the Tokyo government’s Bureau of Labor Relations Commission will lead to improved treatment of freelancers.

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