Piero Valmassoi: European Parliament S&D group meeting hears support for broadening platform work directive to include all workers managed by algorithms

Piero Valmassoi, an EU policy expert specialised in the platform economy, gig work and sustainable urban mobility, reports for the Gig Economy Project on an event organised by the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament on Wednesday [22 June]. The meeting heard arguments in favour of a more general approach to the presumption of employment in the EU’s Platform Work Directive and support for broadening the scope of the directive to include all workers managed by algorithms.

Picture by Davide Alberani

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 debate on the Directive on improving working conditions of platform workers is heating up, as the negotiations in both the European Parliament and the Council of the EU will focus in the next weeks and months on amendments to the European Commission’s proposal published last December

On 22 June, the S&D group in the European Parliament hosted an open event to discuss the legislative file with several stakeholders and experts in two panel discussions. 

EP Rapporteur Elisabetta Gualmini, who has published a report proposing significant amendments to the Directive to strengthen workers’ rights and broaden its remit to all workers managed by algorithms, spoke first, presenting the Directive asone of the pillars of the current parliamentaryterm. 

The stated objective is designing binding legislation that correctly identifies the employment status of platform workers, looking at the objective conditions of their work, and that also protects good employers from unfair competition, she said. A very important part of the file, Gualmini underlined, is the one dedicated to algorithmic management, on which the Directive aims toset requirements andstandards.

Two of the most distinguished labour law scholars in the field of platform work, algorithmic management, and AI issues, Valerio De Stefano (York University, Toronto) and Jeremias Adam-Prassl (Oxford University), welcomed the initiative of the Commission as a step in the right direction, but pointed out shortcomings that might cause it to fall short in delivering its objectives.

De Stefano identified the two key elements of the Directive in the issues of employment status and of algorithmic management. He highlighted how the criteria for subordination included in the Commission’s proposal follow a too narrow perspective that needs to be replaced by a more general approach for a rebuttable presumption of employment (a proposal that is also included in the amendments to the Commission’s text put forward by rapporteur Gualmini). De Stefano also focused on the need of the Directive to provide clear instructions to Member States on how and when the presumption of employment can be rebutted by platforms, in order to ensure a coherent approach across Member States and the concrete effectiveness of the tool at national level. With regard to algorithmic management, he expressed the necessity to extend the provision of the directive about information and consultation rights, beyond workers employed through digital platforms to all workers subject to algorithmic management, including those who are self-employed.

Adam-Prassl pointed out two main challenges in platform work: information asymmetry and loss of agency. The first problem concerns the constant monitoring and surveillance byalgorithms on every aspect of the workers’ life, which not only helps to predict a workers’ behaviour, but could be extended to future potential workers, their behaviour, and their exercise of rights. The second issue refers to the need to re-establish a sense of control and involvement of workers on what is happening in the workplace. In response to these two key challenges, he called for some fine-tuning of the directive: fully automated dismissals must not be allowed; information on workers’oversight must be available to workers and representatives as a basis of collective bargaining; and an expansion of the scope of the directive to all workers beyond the platform economy. 

The next contribution was provided by Hermann Loes, platform worker and sociologist, whoserecent book Homo Deliveroo tells his story as a meal courier in Leuven. He describes the decision of working for Deliveroo as “voluntary submission” to the platform, which manages the work in a way that is completely non-transparent and does not foresee any bargaining with the worker. The self-employed relationship, Loos explained, simply does not reflect the reality of the job. With regard to EU legislation, he also advocates for an elimination of the criteria for subordination, which will be adjusted by platforms’ corporate lawyers to prevent an employment relationship. 

The last two contributions of the panel were focused on Spain, where the Riders’ Law, approved last year, establishes a presumption of employment and the right of information for workers’ representatives. UGT trade union representative Alvaro Vicioso Alfaro illustrated the Spanish context of platform work and advocated for an extension of the scope of the law, now uniquely applying to meal couriers, to all workers subjected to algorithmic management (for example, in the care sector, tourism and hospitality and private hire drivers). The second speaker from Spain, Patrick Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros, Managing Director of Just Eat Spain, also defended the Riders’ Law and rejected one of the main elements of most platforms’ narrative, stating that employment status is no justification for platforms to not turn a profit. Collective bargaining between platforms and workers can and must assure the right balance between the flexibility needed for both employees and platforms, Bergareche argue, as well as the predictability of working conditions guaranteed by the employment status. 

The second panel was opened by Dennis Radtke, EPP Coordinator for the Employment and Social Affairs Committee. He provided a positive opinion on the Commission’s proposal and on the Gualmini report, which is being fiercely challenged by some of his colleagues from EPP. He defined it as an excellent base for work, underlining the need to regulate platform work and eliminate distortions to competition caused by unfair employment and business models (explicitly citing Uber as an example). It will now be very interesting to see how the positions on this issue among EPP party members will align, considering the recent activism of some EPP members in the EMPL committee and in the media in opposition to the Gualmini report

Ana Carla Pereira, member of staff for the Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights (Nicolas Schmit), focused on the primacy of facts and not on the platforms‘ terms and conditions of work, arguing that this is a signal from Europe that technology must not be an excuse for a race to the bottom in social protection. She also acknowledged that algorithms are not exclusive to digital labour platforms. The demand of enlarging the scope of the directive to all workers is to be taken by the Commission asa political signal that further work is needed in this area to strengthen the rights of all workers.

The last two interventions reported views from platforms and from trade unions. Maxime Cerutti of BusinessEurope (which supports Uber’s lobbying work) criticised the approach taken by the Directive and by the Gualmini report, which lacks a definition of genuine self-employment, and results in an unbalanced definition of digital labour platforms, he said. Cerutti mentioned the very important role of the Council of the EU in the negotiations and that platforms will participate in this debate, which seems to signal that platforms will bevery active in lobbying the Council, especially towards certain Member States which have already expressed themselves in favour of independent status of platform workers (for example, France). On the other hand, Ludovic Voet, Secretary General of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), underlined the need of ensuring the primacy of fact, the importance of tools like the presumption of employment, and the responsibility of the platform to assume the burden of demonstrating that there is no subordination relationship. 

The event sawa consensus of the majority of experts on the need to adopt a more general approach to presumption of employment, which will protect workers from bogus self-employment, at the same time guaranteeing the rights of genuine self-employed. Another element on which most of the speakers agreed was the extension of the scope of the directive to all workers subject to algorithmic management decisions. As we have seen, these are two points that are strongly opposed by platforms, from whichwe can expect a strong lobbying workon both the Parliament and the Council, and heated discussions during the negotiations on the legislative file in the next weeks and months.

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