Reaction from unions, academics, platforms and more to the EU Commission’s platform work directive, announced 9 December*
The Gig Economy Project, led by Ben Wray, was initiated by BRAVE NEW EUROPE enabling us to provide analysis, updates, ideas, and reports from all across Europe on the Gig Economy. If you have information or ideas to share, please contact Ben on GEP@Braveneweurope.com.
This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in Europe is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Andrew Wainwright Reform Trust.
THE European Commission’s platform work directive (read more about the details of the proposal here) has spurred immediate reactions, both pro and against, from a wide range of organisations and individuals. We summarise them below.
Antonio Aloisi and Valerio De Stefano
In an article in ‘Social Europe’, labour law academics and experts on platform work responded positively to the Commission’s Directive, finding that “Without qualification, the social acquis providing minimum standards in working conditions and labour rights across the union would extend to platform workers. The time of platform exceptionalism seems to be over”, adding that “the Commission has adopted a bold posture, matching to an extent the expectations of the proposal and the positive atmosphere surrounding the European Pillar of Social Rights.”
Aloisi and De Stefano are also critical, however, arguing that the Directive would “only require digital labour platforms to inform and consult workers’ representatives on algorithmic management when they consider adopting or amending automated monitoring or decision-making systems. This aims to promote social dialogue but leaves us short of the protection of collective bargaining rights for all, regardless of employment status, granted by international law. Even if some important rules regarding transparency of algorithms are extended to the self-employed, lack of recognition of collective agency and voice for these workers could limit their effectiveness.”
Academics from the Fairwork have also responded to the proposal, stating:
“Fairwork welcomes the European Commission’s long-awaited Proposal for a Directive on Improving Conditions on Platform Work. The proposal establishes strong ground for granting more gig workers statutory rights and social protection by tackling gig workers (mis-)classification as self-employed. Moreover, the proposal includes important measures for improving worker co-determination of AI in the workplace.
“However, the proposal also falls short in various areas when it comes to ensuring statutory rights and social protection for all platform workers: Reacting to national court rulings and laws classifying gig workers as employees, platforms have amended their practices to maintain the self-employed model. Workers continuing as self-employed are however not granted statutory rights or social protection in the proposal. A stronger regulatory framework is needed to hold platforms working with a self-employed model responsible for taking proactive measures to protect and promote the health and safety of workers. Moreover, our research highlights that platforms’ use of often complex networks of subcontracting to avoid employer responsibilities. Thus, provisions for ensuring also the rights of workers laboring on digital labour platforms via sub-contractors are needed.
“Lastly, stronger provisions for promoting collective dialogue are needed. The proposal’s provision for facilitating communication among workers on the platform is not enough and falls short of ensuring workers’ rights to collective bargaining.”
Leïla Chaibi MEP
Leïla Chaibi, MEP for France Insoumise, has led the work of the Left group in the European Parliament to push for a strong platform work directive, she responded to the announcement by stating:
“This is a great political victory, and above all a major social advance for platform workers who have been affected for years by great economic insecurity, even though they are the ones who work and take all the risks. It is the culmination of two years of work inside and outside the European Parliament.
“The message sent by the European Commission is loud and clear: Uber, Deliveroo and Volt must stop hiding behind the fraudulent use of self-employed status and must assume their obligations as employers, as they exert subordination over the people who work for them.”
Ludovic Voet, ETUC
Ludovic Voet, confederal secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, has also been leading campaign efforts around the Directive, and stated following its announcement:
“The proposed directive simply ensures workers will now access rights, like paid holiday and sick pay, which have been standard for other workers for the best part of a century. A secure contract with guaranteed wages will give workers far more freedom than fake self-employment, which gave workers no choice whether to wait unpaid between jobs or keep working when they were ill. The Directive can also ensure genuinely self-employed people are protected from subordination by platforms.
“This directive provides long overdue certainty for workers who will no longer face having to take a multinational company to court in order to have something as basic as an employment contract. It also provides a level playing field for responsible businesses who faced unfair competition from platforms.
“The trade union movement can be proud of having made strong demands over the past two years for a presumption of employment relationship and the reversal of the burden of the proof. After having been supported by the European Parliament, these are the options that were deemed to be the most effective by the impact assessment of the Directive.
“However, it seems some platforms have been successful in their lobbying as the directive does still set burdensome criteria to activate the presumption of employment which could defeat the point of it. In practice, criteria might legitimise subordination of self-employed workers and this would defeat the purpose of the Directive. The upcoming negotiations should resolve this problem.”
Stephen Cotton, ITF General Secretary
The International Transport Federation’s General Secretary has also responded positively to the Directive:
“This Directive is a landmark for raising standards of employment in the platform economy. Platform companies like Uber, Bolt, Deliveroo, Glovo and others for too long have been able to use loopholes in legislation to exploit workers.
“Although we have some concerns about certain provisions of the Directive that may allow for platform companies to exploit loopholes and evade employment responsibilities, we’re glad to see that EU regulators are catching up and following unions’ lead on this.
“The Directive sets sound principles on how workers should be treated, and we hope it will signal a path forward for regulators around the world. The point of contention is now over. It’s time for platform companies to engage constructively with unions. Let’s work together to improve working conditions in the sector. The ITF will work with any company that respects the rules.”
The Spanish campaign group of riders, RidersXDerechos (“Riders for Rights”), has responded to the Platform Work Directive positively, but with significant criticisms, including in relation to undocumented riders who sub-let their app accounts from other users, and were not mentioned in the Directive. You can read their statement in full here (in Spanish).
“Although the European directive contains a rebuttable presumption of an employment relationship (including a reversal of the burden of proof), which we welcome, this presumption is based on a list of five closed points, of which at least two must be met in order to be considered an employment relationship…we believe it is important not to provide a closed list of five points. Moreover, we believe that a minimum of two points is not necessary to prove the employment relationship, but that one would be more than enough.
“With regard to the algorithm, a central issue in the platform conflict, we welcome the obligation for platforms to provide information about the various automated processes that define the type of employment relationship and condition the behaviour of workers, not only for employees, but also for the self-employed…However, in this context, subcontracting and the illegal transfer of workers, through which companies try to circumvent the “rider law”, pose a problem in order to make use of the European directive and gain access to the algorithm.
“We mainly regret that this directive, like the so-called Rider law, leaves out the weakest links in this whole chain of exploitation, productivity and control: undocumented people and account renters”.
A grassroots riders union mainly based in Catalunya, CGT riders responded to the Directive by stating that “although in some articles it has met expectations, in others, however, it fails to address several root problems, as well as repeating mistakes that we have already seen with the misnamed “Rider Law” of the Spanish State.” You can read CGT Riders full statement here (in Spanish).
“As far as the transparency of the algorithm is concerned, while it is good news that the Directive obliges digital platforms to provide information on their respective automated operations to workers’ representatives, or simply to workers, whether they are employees or self-employed…on the other hand, as is happening in Spain, the advent of subcontracting for companies that choose to make their workers salaried would mean that they would not be able to access the algorithm because they would be under a front company that would not really be the main digital platform.
“As for the rights of undocumented workers, who constitute an important group for companies as they represent an important source of cheap labour, they have not been properly addressed by the Directive. It has not even been mentioned in the European document, when it constitutes a real problem that leads to absolute precariousness, since these are people who, due to the situation in which they find themselves, are subjected to a double exploitation, that is, the guidelines of the platforms, as well as of the owners who provide them with their accounts to work them in exchange for high percentages or simply profit from their efforts.”
Martin Willems, United Freelancers ACV-CSV
Martin Willems is responsible for the United Freelancers section of the ACV-CSV union, which represents 1.5 million workers in Belgium. We interviewed Willems in November. In response to the Directive, Willems stated:
“The draft directive proposal on platform workers is a huge step forward. We welcome it; certainly in a country where a recent judgement about the status of Deliveroo couriers went the way of self-employed; this shows not everybody is aligned on the same track yet.
“Coming back on the directive proposal, I stay cautious, and I know the struggle is not over, on the contrary. First because it must be discussed between EU countries, and watering down a text that already is a compromise and/or delaying its approval can happen. Second because each country will thereafter have to transpose into national legislation, before it is effective, which commonly takes another two years.
“Third because we know platforms will try everything to by-pass legislations. Considering the presumption mechanism is only applicable if a couple of criteria (out of the list of 5 in the directive proposal, article 4.2) applies, this also means the platforms know what to deny to evade the presumption. Should we, workers, have to go to court against each platform to force it to comply with the directive, we could stay in legal proceedings for a long time!”
The US ride hail giant has been lobbying furiously against the Directive, and have subsequently expressed their displeasure at what has been published.
“Uber is committed to improving the working conditions for the hundreds of thousands of drivers and couriers who rely on our app for flexible work.
“But we are concerned the Commission’s proposal would have the opposite effect – putting thousands of jobs at risk, crippling small businesses in the wake of the pandemic and damaging vital services that consumers across Europe rely on.
“As countries including France have demonstrated, there is a better way and any EU-wide rules should allow drivers and couriers to retain the flexibility we know they value most, while allowing platforms to introduce more protections and benefits.”
Dominick Moxon-Tritsch, Bolt
Bolt’s Vice-President of regulation and public policy was also sharply critical of the Directive:
“We are disappointed that the European Commission is proposing to sacrifice the flexibility and efficiency of platform work through the reclassification of employment. It seems to be a one-sided approach that doesn’t take all available options into consideration.
“The proposal made by the Commission means that hundreds of thousands of ride-hailing drivers and delivery couriers would lose the opportunity of platform work, as platforms would be forced to shift to an exclusive full-time employment model.
“This would negatively impact working conditions for platform workers, reduce their earning opportunities, and severely impact tens of millions of European citizens who benefit from platform services today.”
The German multi-national owns a number of food delivery companies in Europe, including E-Food in Greece, and responded to the announcement with a more nuanced criticism.
“Delivery Hero fully supports the European Commission’s aim to improve the labour conditions of platform workers.
“However, we strongly believe that the suggested criteria to trigger the proposed rebuttable presumption of employment and reversed burden of proof are too broad and would not contribute to that goal. This would also have disproportionate restrictions for self-employed platform workers and put limitations on the flexibility we know they value most.”
Jitse Groen, Just EAT
The CEO of Just Eat has been swimming against the tide of major digital labour platforms in Europe over the past week, advocating in favour of the Commission’s proposal, as Just Eat now employs its riders, either directly or through sub-contractors. Groen stated following the announcement:
“As Europe’s largest food delivery platform, Just Eat Takeaway.com welcomes and fully supports the EU Commission’s proposals to improve conditions for workers and help them access social protections.
“We hope that the Commission’s proposal will create clarity and a level playing field that ensures that companies across Europe are held to the same standards, so that all platform workers are treated with the dignity they deserve.”
*This article has been updated on 16 December 2021 to include additional reaction
To sign up to the Gig Economy Project’s weekly newsletter, which provides up-to-date analysis and reports on everything that’s happening in the gig economy in Europe, leave your email here.
BRAVE NEW EUROPE has begun its Fundraising Campaign 2021
Support us and become part of a media that takes responsibility for society
BRAVE NEW EUROPE is a not-for-profit educational platform for economics, politics, and climate change that brings authors at the cutting edge of progressive thought together with activists and others with articles like this. If you would like to support our work and want to see more writing free of state or corporate media bias and free of charge. To maintain the impetus and impartiality we need fresh funds every month. Three hundred donors, giving £5 or 5 euros a month would bring us close to £1,500 monthly, which is enough to keep us ticking over. Please donate here.