Union leaders and campaigners for gig workers’ rights say attempt to introduce collective agreements as a substitute for legal provisions in the EU Directive demonstrates how bad agreements can be used by platforms to undermine workers’ rights
Trade unionists and activists campaigning for employment rights for workers in the gig economy have spoken out against the possibility that collective agreements signed between digital labour platforms and social partners, like unions, could replace some legal provisions in the EU Platform Work Directive.
The first collective agreement between a union and Uber in the EU was signed in October in Belgium with UBT-FGTB, while agreements were signed between UK union GMB and Uber in 2021 and Deliveroo in May of this year. All of these have faced criticism from drivers and riders within the trade union movement for being weak agreements that give legitimacy to platforms which continue to deny workers basic rights.
Now, it has been reported that the Czech Republic, which is the current President of the EU Council, has included within a recent draft of the Platform Work Directive for discussion among member-states that such agreements can substitute for legal provisions within the Directive. The EU Commission published its draft proposal last December, and the EU Council and EU Parliament are currently thrashing out what changes they want to make to it before the text is ratified.
Théo Bourgery-Gonse, a journalist at Euractiv who has been reporting on developments with the Directive, stated that a “new article (Art. 20a) the Czechs surreptitiously added at the last minute” included “that a collective agreement, if found among social partners (at national level) can stray from some of the provisions of the directive.”
Bourgery-Gonse argued: “Arguably a win for platforms, who are turning to collective agreements left, right and centre (see negotiations in France, Finland and the UK). But [the European Commission] expressed concerns that this would lead to legal uncertainty, and that agreements may stray from GDPR obligations, which is a no-go. The Czechs seem to have taken that on board and have tamed the article’s wording quite extensively.”
The EU Commission draft proposal included a legal presumption of employment for platform workers, something which neither the UBT-FGTB agreement with Uber (who ‘agreed to disagree’ on the issue) nor the GMB agreement with Deliveroo (which recognises Deliveroo riders as self-employed) hold the company to. The Uber-GMB deal came in the context of Uber having already partially accepted the employment rights of its British drivers following a Supreme Court verdict in February 2021. An agreement between CCOO and UGT with Just Eat in Spain did include employment rights as part of the collective bargaining arrangement.
Commenting on the Czechs proposed proposed amendment to the Platform Work Directive, Felipe Corredor Álvarez, spokesperson for ‘RidersXDerechos’ in Spain, said: “We think this is a way to override the regulations for platforms, and make useless the efforts of the collectives and regulators. It would be interesting to see the meetings registered between the politicians who added this provision and the lobbyists of the platform companies.
“We shall not allow it, since the regulations should be above any particular agreement between companies in a dominant position and workers in a precarious position.
“Every labour regulation in the world is based on the principle of asymmetry between workers and companies, and this Directive should keep this spirit of protection. No deregulation, or regulation from the companies with fake agreements, which is the same thing.”
Ben Ali Brahim, leader of the INV union in France which represents Uber drivers, said: “The platforms are putting all their energy into finding ways out of the directive. These collective agreements cannot apply to workers who are not unionised. Which worker will contribute to a union that signs an agreement less favourable than the Directive? That’s the best way to block negotiations with platforms.”
Ali Brahim added that he believed this move by the Czech Republic was part of attempts to create a ‘third status’ across Europe, between employee and self-employed, that “does not involve workers”.
He added: “‘Social dialogue’ in France has become a farce to negotiate task-based social protections for platforms. We do not want a self-employed à la carte status or an à la carte employee status. There is no place for tasking, and we cannot negotiate with platforms that do not have the status of transport companies.”
Anne Dufresne, activist for gig workers’ rights and member of the GRESEA research group, who organised the first international conference of riders in 2018, said such a provision as proposed by the Czech Republic was “very dangerous” for trade unionism and for platform workers.
“We really have to denounce all the possibilities the platforms will use to get around regulation.
“These social partnership agreements are very dangerous concerning the future role of the trade unions in the platformisation of the economy, and can create a crisis of worker representation.”
Dufresne, who is Belgian and has written a strong critique of the UBT-FPGTB agreement with Uber on the Gig Economy Project, added that this could also lead to a “clarification” of the role different unions are playing in the trade union movement.
“There is a clear divide between ‘yellow’ unions in the different member states of the EU, which want a partnership with the platforms on terms fully acceptable to the platforms, and the new collectives of workers, such as in Berlin, and maybe the creation of new forms of unions which have an approach of building counter-power to the platforms, like the IWGB and ADCU have done in the UK for instance.”
Platform Work Directive negotiations hit a wall
The news comes as negotiations between member-states on the EU Council over the Platform Work Directive appear to have hit a brick wall. Eight labour ministers signed a letter in October criticising the attempts by the Czech presidency to weaken the draft Directive, and those divisions have not subsequently been resolved, as for two weeks in a row at the ‘Corepor’, an important body which prepares the work for the EU Council meetings, the proposals of the Czechs have been rejected.
After the latest failed Corepor meeeting, Ludovic Voet, Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), tweeted: “Again a defeat for [the Czech Presidency] in attempt to worsen working conditions of platform workers. Workers will not be defeated.”
It is unclear as to whether a planned vote on the Platform Work Directive at the EU Council on 8 December will now go ahead, although the Czechs may have a majority on the Council to force the text through despite the disagreement of more left-wing member-states.
At the same time, a negotiating process is taking place in the EU Parliament, which also has to come to an agreed position on the amendments it will support to the Directive. A completely different text, pushed by the European Parliament’s Social Democrat Rapporteur Elisabetta Gualmini that would strengthen the EU Commission’s draft Directive proposal will be voted on at the European Parliament Employment Committee on 12 December, pushed back from the original date of 30 November. Gualmini’s text has already been watered down after pressure from the right-wing of the European People’s Party (EPP), which want to weaken it further but Gualmini retains the support of the EPP’s chair Dennis Radtke.
Once the EU Council and EU Parliament come to their positions, a common position has to be found between both bodies and each body must then vote to ratify or reject the final text.
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