Oleksiy’s first job after immigrating to Poland from western Ukraine was in a bakery. But the work was taxing, and he fell ill from going back and forth between the oven area and the refrigerated section. So when he heard from a friend about an opportunity to drive for Uber in Warsaw, he jumped on it. A 35-year-old man with the bubbly energy of a teenager, Oleksiy likes cars and enjoys working with people. He now works 13 or 14 hour days, subsisting only on fruits and vegetables, a diet which he claims is the secret to his vitality.
Driving for Uber was a better job, with less strenuous work, better pay, and a flexible schedule. In order to sign up for an Uber account and start working, though, drivers in Poland like Oleksiy have to become formally self-employed — a very cumbersome process for the driver.
The self-employed status, which is different from just working as a freelancer, isn’t merely a matter of which tax form to use. You have to register with the government as a company and with the tax agency as a value added tax (VAT) payer. You need to pay for the national social insurance scheme, which, after some initial exemptions, costs the equivalent of more than one-third of the median pre-tax salary in Poland per month, as well as pay the income tax, which starts at 18%, and VAT tax. To all of this, you have to add accounting costs — there’s an invoice for every ride — and the hassle of it all. As a foreigner like Oleksiy, you also need a special residence permit.
Oleksiy, who asked OneZero not to use his full name because his work is undocumented, had no idea how he’d even begin. His only real option was going to a “fleet partner.” In countries like the United States and Germany, partners like these typically provide cars to Uber drivers in exchange for a commission.
In Poland, and in several other countries in Eastern Europe, these intermediary companies also take care of the paperwork and fulfill the legal requirements, which can be so onerous that many drivers who have their own cars…