Gig Economy Project – Piero Valmassoi: European Parliament committee debates Platform Work Directive 

Piero Valmassoi, an EU policy expert specialised in the platform economy, gig work and sustainable urban mobility, reports for the Gig Economy Project on The Employment and Social affairs Committee (EMPL) of the European Parliament, which discussed the Directive on Thursday [19 May] with interventions from the European Commission, trade union and platform lobby representatives. 

Picture by Byronv2

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This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in Europe is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust.

On 19 May, the EMPL Committee of the European Parliament began the debate on the European Commission’s proposal for a Directive on improving working conditions in platform work and on the draft report of the rapporteur Elisabetta Gualmini (S&D), which put forward a series of relevant amendments to the Commission’s text. 

To start, the Committee heard contributions from a series of external stakeholders about the proposal of the European Commission. The most relevant exchange took place between Samuel Laurinkari of Wolt, who was representing the lobby Delivery Platforms Europe (which brings together Wolt, Delivery Hero, Deliveroo, Glovo, UberEats, DoorDash, and Bolt), and Ludovic Voet of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). 

Laurinkari presented the traditional platform narrative of happy gig workers who are able to make “5000 euros a month and then go to holiday” and gave examples of how reclassification lowers the number of active workers. The way forward, according to the platform lobbyist, is a “combination of collective bargaining for self-employed and allowing platforms to give better protections to self-employed contracted partners”, citing the recent dodgy Deliveroo-GMB agreement as an example of this supposedly virtuous approach. 

In response, Voet defined the Directive as a step in the right direction but pointed out its shortcomings, especially the lengthy and costly litigations that workers or labour inspectorates will have to go through to prove there is  an employment relationship. With remarks that were supported later in the meeting by Leila Chaibi (The Left in the European Parliament), Voet underlined the fact that it should be the platform that adapts to the presumption of employment or brings evidence of the contrary. This is done in practice by opening the algorithm and showing in advance how it works, either through subordination or genuine self-employment. In this way, the criteria for subordination included in the EC proposal could be removed from the text, as proposed in Gualmini’s report. 

READ MORE: European Parliament’s right-wing divided over platform work directive

After the contribution of the experts, the floor was then given to the representatives of the party groups, starting with the rapporteur Elisabetta Gualmini of S&D. She explained the three major goals of the amendments contained in her draft report, which are mostly in accordance with the spirit of the EC proposal and aim at offering further protections to workers: the need to avoid any hybrid or ‘third’ status for platform workers; the need for transparency and human oversight of algorithmic management; and finally, the objective of broadening the scope of the directive to target all those workers who are subject to automatic monitoring systems, even when digital platforms are not involved. 

An interesting aspect of the discussion was the very different tone of the two interventions by the EPP members: Cindy Franssen’s contribution, who took the floor right after Gualmini, followed entirely the line of the rapporteur, by stressing the need for accountability of platforms, for European alignment in workers’ classification, and of embracing innovation only when fair and inclusive. Instead, Radan Kanev, taking the floor towards the end of the session, echoed the platforms claims by declaring himself very afraid that the Gualmini report goes far away from the proposal, trying to regulate not the platform but the worker and his or her possibility of choosing flexible work. Similar remarks were made by Lucia Nicholsonová of Renew Europe and Anna Zalewska of ECR: the former expressed scepticism about Gualmini’s proposal of removing the criteria for subordination from the Directive, fearing that this might lead to automatic reclassification of all self-employed; the latter stated that expanding the scope to any worker subject to automated monitoring systems would mean including any worker in the scope of the text.

At last, it was Max Uebe who took the floor on behalf of the European Commission, who stressed the alignment of the Commission’s proposal to the parliamentary resolution of last year. He mentioned that the criteria proposed are technology and sector neutral and that instead of looking at platforms terms and conditions, the objective reality of the work relationship has to be analysed. 

This is just the start of the debate of the European Parliament on the directive – which will continue by discussing amendments to the Gualmini report starting from June. Moving forward, it will be very interesting to see how the positions of the party groups will shift throughout the parliamentary process, which according to the planning should come to an end with the approval of the EP’s plenary by the end of 2022. At the same time, EU member states in the Council of the European Union are already splitting up between positions that are more protective to workers (Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Portugal) and a block led by France, Scandinavian and Eastern Europe countries that are already showing signs of resistance to the Commission’s proposal.

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