The Gig Economy Project – European Parliament’s right-wing divided over platform work directive

A private hire platform lobby event in Brussels saw sharp divides within the centre-right EPP Group, and heard fears from platforms over a new attempt to push the Directive further to the left

Screenshot of the Move EU platform lobby event, 11 May

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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.

A ride hail platform lobby event in Brussels on Wednesday [11 May] revealed deep divisions within the EU’s centre-right over the regulation of platform work. 

The event was organised by Bulgarian MEP Radan Kanev on behalf of Brussels’ private hire platform lobby, Move EU, which is made up of Uber, Bolt and Free Now, and heard from MEPs in the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) Group who were both for and against the Directive.

Sitting in front of an EPP banner, Kanev opened the event by giving his own personal reasons for supporting the gig economy, after he worked in informal jobs in his youth. Kanev also re-stated his case that the Ukrainian refugee crisis showed the need for self-employment in the gig economy, as otherwise they would struggle to find work in the EU.

“In Bulgaria we have over 100,000 refugees from Ukraine, they have the right to work, most of them have 1 or 2 children, they cannot work full-time…they are there, they need the money, and employers need them, but they need them on a flexible basis, they cannot give them full-time contracts,” Kanev said.

Kanev’s position has been criticised by UNI Europa trade union leader Oliver Roethig, who argued that “Ukrainian refugees deserve decent work too”. 

The event then heard from a Move EU lobbyist [name inaudible], who made the claim that “all drivers earn at or above the minimum wage in all European countries”, a claim that has been repeatedly rejected by drivers

The lobbyist went on to argue that the economic impact of the platform work directive “will be one out of two of the drivers, about 300,000 across Europe, will lose their work, especially part-time drivers”. 

He called for the Directive to be “re-drafted” so that “it does not lead to an automatic classification by default”. 

Responding, Dennis Radtke, a German MEP in the EPP who sits on the committee on employment and social affairs, said he did “not agree with what I’ve just heard”. 

“From an EPP perspective, it’s not only a question of delivering social security and social justice, it’s also a question of fair competition,” Radtke argued. “For example  in Germany, if you are running a taxi business you have to pay minimum wage, insurance and social security, if you are in competition with someone who doesn’t have those obligations, this is not a fair competition.”

He criticised the call of the Move EU lobbyist for the regulation to be re-drafted, pointing to the large majority in the European Parliament which voted to support a motion which was broadly reflected in the Directive’s text. 

“What we delivered in the parliament was a very strong position so I do not see that the Directive will be rejected or redrafted. You cannot solve a problem by denying the problem.”

In the 2021 vote, MEPs voted 524 in favour, 39 against and 124 abstentions. The EPP is the largest group in the Strasbourg parliament, with 176 MEPs.

Also joining the event were Leïla Chiabi, MEP in the Left in the European Parliament Group who has led the campaign for a strong platform work directive, and Ben Ali Brahim, leader of the INV union which organises Uber drivers in France and in is in favour of employment rights for private hire drivers. Chiabi made the case against “fake self-employment” and Ali Brahim expressed the strain which private hire drivers were under from the pandemic, where their earnings collapsed and they had to work in extreme health conditions, to the cost of living crisis, where fuel prices are rising while driver pay is being cut. 

Miriam Lexmann, Slovakian MEP in the EPP Group, said that it was the efforts of the platforms’ during the pandemic crisis which deserved reward from regulators.

“These platforms have saved so many people in terms of food delivery and ride hail during the pandemic,” she said. “And now Covid is over and we are coming with a regulation which would practically kill this type of business.” 

European Parliament Rapporteur’s draft report

The event also heard criticism of a new draft report published yesterday by Elisabetta Gualmini, the European Parliament’s rapporteur, on the platform work directive. Gualmini proposed wide-ranging changes to key aspects of the Directive, in the direction of strengthening worker protections.

Gualmini’s proposed amendments to the Directive include expanding the number of criteria for defining whether a platform worker is an employee from five to 11 and changing its purpose so that it acts as guidance to authorities in determining employment status. The actual process for verification of whether a worker is an employee or not would happen through platforms registering all their work contracts with social security, and it would be the job of the social security body to verify whether this is accurate or not, based on the presumption of employment. This will also provide the social security body in question with precise data on the platform economy, something which has eluded authorities up until now.

The text states the Directive will “develop guidance and establish procedures for competent administrative authorities and institutions to proactively apply the legal presumption in the administrative procedures and to share data with other relevant authorities in order to apply the legal presumption in the processing and registration of contractual relations and social security related data”. 

The amendments proposed by Gualmini also includes text on sub-contracting, which was missing from the Commission’s proposal. The amendment states: “In order to prevent the misuse of subcontracting by the digital labour platforms to circumvent this Directive, it is necessary to ensure that at least the contractors of which the employer is a subcontractor may be considered to be the true employer and therefore held liable to pay wages, social security contributions and financial sanctions in addition to or in place of the direct employer.”

Finally, Gualmini’s amendments strengthen the language around workers’ rights “not to be subject to decisions based solely on automated processing, including profiling”. 

“Therefore, algorithmic management that entails fully automated decision-making that has significant effects on individuals without input from human managers is unlawful under Union law,” the text adds.

Commenting, the Move EU lobbyist said that “the report yesterday by the rapporteur goes even more in the wrong direction”. Internal emails between centre-right MEPs Aldo Patriciello and the aforementioned Lexmann seen by EurActiv warn against “eliminating all advantages this new model provides like independence and flexibility for workers.”

Gualmini’s report will inform discussions in the European Parliament about the platform work directive. Both the EP and the EU Council have to sign-off on the Directive before it becomes law.

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