Improving the working conditions in platform work; Q&A 

European Commission

The European Commission has published Questions and Answers about improving the working conditions in platform work.

Why does the European Union need an initiative on platform work?

The platform economy is a growing phenomenon, with around 11% of the EU workforce saying that they have already provided services through a platform. Platform work creates new opportunities for workers, self-employed, customers and businesses. This includes additional jobs and income for people who might have more difficulties to access the traditional labour market and those who value the flexibility of platform work. Yet, it can also lead to new forms of precariousness, for example due to lack of transparency and predictability in working conditions, as well as insufficient social protection. Additional challenges related to platform work include its cross-border dimension and the issue of algorithmic management.

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the digital transformation and the expansion of platform business models in the internal market. Some platforms played an important role in ensuring access to services in the midst of the lockdowns. At the same time, the public health crisis has reinforced the precarious working conditions, under which many platform workers were already operating. Vulnerabilities regarding for example access to social protection and income stability have become even more visible. The pandemic has also resulted in some cases in increased health and safety risks due to the high exposure to the virus and lack of measures to protect platform workers.

The sustainable growth of the platform economy therefore requires improved legal clarity for platforms and better working conditions for people working through platforms. Building on the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights as well as existing instruments such as the EU Directive on transparent and predictable working conditions or the Council Recommendation on access to social protection for workers and self-employed, the initiative would provide for dignified and transparent working conditions and adequate social protection in platform work to ensure that no one is left behind.

What do we mean by platform work?

People working through platforms refers to individuals providing services intermediated with a greater or lesser extent of control via a digital labour platform, regardless of these people’s legal employment status (worker, self-employed or any third-category status).

The main characteristics of platform work are that:

  • Paid work is organised through an online platform;
  • Three parties are involved: the online platform, the client and the worker;
  • The aim is to carry out specific tasks or solve specific problems;
  • The work is contracted out;
  • Jobs are broken down into tasks;
  • Services are provided on demand.

A basic distinction can be made between on-location labour platforms (like passenger transport, deliveries, domestic work) and online labour platforms (where the tasks are not location-dependent and can be carried out from home, e.g. encoding data, translation work, tagging pictures, IT or design projects).

Platform work, as referred to in the consultation document, is distinct from activities carried out on platforms, whereby services are exchanged without remuneration, or with a remuneration that only covers the cost of providing said services (e.g. car-sharing).

What are the main opportunities and challenges of platform work?

Platform work contributes to growth and jobs in the EU as it represents new opportunities and lower entry barriers to the labour market. It can therefore enable people to remain or become economically active. Platform work may bring increased flexibility and additional revenues.

Its complex and fluid nature however poses important challenges for policymaking. Certain types of platform work may be associated with precarious working conditions, reflected in the lack of transparency and predictability of contractual arrangements, health and safety challenges and inadequate access to social protection. In this first stage consultation of social partners, the Commission has identified the following areas in which improvements may be needed:

  • employment status;
  • working conditions, including health and safety;
  • access to adequate social protection;
  • access to collective representation and bargaining;
  • cross-border dimension of platform work;
  • issues related to algorithmic management;
  • access to training and professional opportunities.

What is the role of social partners regarding the working conditions in platform work?

Social partners play a very important role in discussions on how to regulate platform work. The Commission has been in close contact with social partners regarding the planned initiative on platform work. In 2020 a dedicated exchange was organised to seek their views on opportunities and challenges in platform work.

Article 154(2) TFEU asks the Commission to consult labour and management before submitting proposals in the social policy field based on Article 153 TFEU. In the first stage, the Commission consults the social partners on the possible direction of an initiative, whilst in the second stage, the focus is on the content of an initiative. This process enables the European social partners to directly influence the drafting of social policy proposals.

Moreover, during both stages of the consultation process the social partners may decide to enter into negotiations and to deal with a specific issue through bipartite social dialogue. In such a case, the Commission initiative is suspended for a period of nine months. In cases where social partners reach an agreement they can decide to either implement the agreement autonomously through their national affiliates or ask for the implementation of the agreement by a Council decision on a proposal by the Commission (Art. 155 TFEU).

What is the Commission launching today and what will be the next steps?

The Commission is launching a first phase consultation of social partners that will be running for six weeks. The purpose of the consultation is to invite the views of European trade unions and employers’ organisations on the need and direction of possible EU action to improve the working conditions of people working through digital labour platforms active in the EU. The Commission will carefully examine the replies submitted by EU social partners.

If social partners conclude that they do not wish to enter negotiations on this issue among themselves, the Commission will proceed with the second stage of the consultation process seeking social partners’ views on the content of the envisaged EU action. If again social partners do not signal their wish to negotiate, the Commission will put forward an initiative by the end of the year.

What exactly does the consultation ask social partners?

In the first stage the Commission consults the social partners for a minimum of six weeks on the possible direction of an initiative. The questions on which the Commission is seeking the views of the social partners at the first stage are:

  • Do you consider that the European Commission has correctly and sufficiently identified the issues and the possible areas for EU action?
  • Do you consider that EU action is needed to effectively address the identified issues and achieve the objectives presented?
  • If so, should the action cover all people working in platforms, whether workers or self-employed? Should it focus on specific types of digital labour platforms, and if yes which ones?
  • If EU action is deemed necessary, what rights and obligations should be included in that action? Do the objectives presented in this document present a comprehensive overview of actions needed?
  • Would you consider initiating a dialogue under Article 155 TFEU on any of the issues identified in this consultation?

This first-stage consultation is launched today with adoption of the first phase consultation document. It will last for a period of six weeks.

What kind of legislative proposal on platform workers is the Commission going to present in 2021?

In her Political Guidelines, President von der Leyen stressed that “digital transformation brings fast change that affects our labour markets”. She undertook the commitment to “look at ways of improving the labour conditions of platform workers”. The Commission Work Programme 2021 announced a legislative initiative on improving the working conditions of platform workers by the end of 2021.

The Commission has undertaken extensive exchanges with different stakeholders, and today’s launch of the social partners’ consultation is an important milestone in the process of defining an EU initiative on platform work. This two-stage consultation is an open process and the input of social partners will play a crucial role in defining the content and type of instrument, as well as its legal nature.

What other Commission initiatives are relevant for people working through platforms?

In 2017, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission proclaimed a European Pillar of Social Rights as the EU’s compass to achieve better working and living conditions in Europe. As a follow-up to the Pillar, the Council adopted a Directive on Transparent and predictable working conditions, which also covers all new forms of work. The Council Recommendation on Access to social protection for workers and the self-employed encourages Member States to cover all forms of work better, including platform work.

The EU tackles platform economy challenges also from other angles. The Platform to Business (P2B) Regulation promotes fairness and transparency for business users of online intermediation services while the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) provides workers with a variety of rights with respect to their personal data. In the area of taxation, a proposal on reporting obligations for platforms for tax purposes within the EU was presented last year. The Commission proposal for a Digital Services Act (DSA), adopted in December 2020, provides for transparency obligations as regards the terms and conditions of intermediary services, algorithms and recommender systems used by online platforms. It also aims to better protect users against illegal content, including the sale of products or provision of services, not in compliance with Union or national laws. Platforms intermediating work which fulfil the conditions of the definition of intermediary services will fall within the scope of the Digital Services Act. Currently, the Commission is working on a regulatory framework for Artificial Intelligence based on a risk-based approach. Finally, an announced initiative in the area of competition law seeks to ensure that, under certain circumstances, EU competition law does not stand in the way of collective bargaining by solo self-employed, including those working through platforms.

How does this consultation relate to the inception impact assessment launched in January on “Collective bargaining agreements for self-employed – scope of application of EU competition rules”?

This consultation does not address the issue of the applicability of EU competition law to collective bargaining by the solo self-employed. The latter issue is being tackled separately, with an inception impact assessment that has been launched to exclusively focus on ensuring that competition rules do not stand in the way of collective bargaining by self-employed who need it.

The inception impact assessment on “Collective bargaining agreements for self-employed – scope of application of EU competition rules” launched in January 2021 gathers views on how to ensure that EU competition law does not stand in the way of initiatives to improve working conditions through collective agreements for solo self-employed where they choose to conclude such agreements, while guaranteeing that consumers and SMEs continue to benefit from competitive prices and innovative business models, including in the digital economy.

Source: European Commission

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