Thursday

29th Feb 2024

Analysis

Belgian presidency seeking to revamp EU deal for gig workers

  • The EU Commission had estimated that 5.5 million platform workers, out of 28 million, would be reclassified under the new rules (Photo: Unsplash)
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The Belgian EU presidency is working against the clock to get a deal with the European Parliament and EU Commission on improving the conditions of gig workers back on track — but internal disagreements over their working status continue to threaten a final agreement.

A provisional deal was reached under the Spanish presidency on 13 December, but collapsed little more than a week later, raising questions about what went wrong.

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At the core of the issue is re-classifying many platform workers in the online gig economy as employees, rather than freelancers, entitling them to some social welfare benefits and rights.

Some stakeholders suggested that the pact was premature.

"Over the last few years, and recents months in particular, we have seen that EU institutions and council presidencies become so desperate for their 'Mission Accomplished' banner moment on a big file that they rush negotiations," Daniel Friedlaender, Brussels lobbyist at CCIA (representing big tech clients such as Amazon, Meta or Google) wrote on LinkedIn in December.

Another EU lobbyist told EUobserver, referring to the disparate positions of various member states, that "it was a deal that was never really a deal".

The text was not even put to a vote before the Christmas break because the Spanish presidency unexpectedly realised there were too many delegations against it — including Italy, France, and some Baltic states.

"EU countries have sent a clear signal that the provisional agreement did not deliver on the directive's goal to improve working conditions for platform workers and legal certainty to the sector," said an Uber spokesperson.

Still, several EU diplomats called the criticism of the presidency's work "unfair", given the huge amount of technical work that had to be done and the long hours put in to push the files as far as possible during the last of the full presidencies.

Other EU sources pointed to the fact that some delegations changed their position at the last minute — torpedoing the majority needed to give the green light to the deal.

Parliamentary sources also note that the internal opposition in the council was a surprise, and see France (and Macron) as the delegation behind the opposition, which did not like the removal of the so-called 'French derogation' from the text. This means that if there is a collective agreement, the criteria to reclassify a freelance worker as an employee do not apply.

As of today, the Belgian EU presidency has already presented a new draft text to member states, softening the presumption of employment in order to reach a "more acceptable" agreement for all delegations, an EU diplomat told EUobserver.

This draft departed from the provisional agreement and introduced some changes to narrow the scope of the criteria that trigger the presumption of employment.

The two criteria on setting pay and monitoring performance remain in the text, but the other three were amended and the indicators would not apply to "genuine self-employed" workers, the text said.

Mission impossible?

Member states are meeting on Tuesday (16 January) for technical discussions to understand what the key issues that delegations want to see in the agreement are — especially those who opposed the provisional agreement reached in December.

For example, for France, the five criteria listed to trigger the presumption of employment and the wording of these indicators were a no-go, as the country believes that the worker would automatically be reclassified as an employee even if that is not the case.

Paris also wants platform workers to provide some minimum evidence to analyse their individual situation, according to other media reports. This is in direct conflict with the reversal of the burden of proof back onto the platforms, one of the most celebrated points achieved by the parliament.

The lead MEP on the file, Elisabetta Gualmini (Socialists & Democrats), has already said that the parliament will engage in further negotiations to reach an agreement before the end of the mandate — although the Italian MEP has drawn a red line.

"We cannot accept a text which is going to worsen the situation as it is now," she told colleagues during an employment committee meeting last Thursday (11 January).

Gualmini labelled the parts on the presumption of employment and reclassification of platform workers as "very balanced and acceptable" ones. These are precisely the most difficult parts to agree on at the member-states level.

"The council has to know that we will never accept a bad agreement," MEP Leïla Chaibi (The Left) told EUobserver.

"We prefer no directive to a bad directive," she added, noting that the withdrawal of labour inspections once a bogus self-employed worker is detected on the platform is another of her red lines.

The parliament has given the presidency until the beginning of February to reach a new agreement, so that the final text can be properly translated and legally checked, but there is still no concrete timeline for new trilogue meetings, as different ways of finding a new text to present to the parliament are being explored.

Moreover, with other big files to complete, such as the AI Act, some fear that this one will not be finished during this mandate.

"It is possible, but it will be complicated," an EU diplomat told EUobserver.

For the Belgians, it is a "very important file" that they are determined to close during their presidency, said another EU diplomat, noting that it is also a difficult file because of the differences between national social security systems — as the reclassification of platform workers as employees would mean some new social protections for them.

The EU Commission originally estimated that 5.5 million out of 28 million platform workers would be reclassified under the new rules.

Analysis

Decoding the EU deal on new rules for gig workers' conditions

Two years after the EU Commission's proposal, the co-legislators have reached a provisional agreement on a text to improve working conditions for digital platform workers — but what does it include and what is still missing?

Crunch point in talks on EU gig workers' employment status

The 'presumption of employment' crux continues to hold up agreement on a final text to improve conditions for digital platform workers. On Thursday, the EU institutions will meet again on the technical aspects of the agreement.

Platform workers could face 'robo-firing' under EU's AI rules

The platform workers directive, currently under negotiation, could create "ambiguity" on the processing of personal data by the platform and would also violate the GDPR by including the use of so-called robo-firing, research shows.

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Another provisional agreement on improving working conditions for platform workers fall apart on Friday, as four member states decided not to support it — making the chances of a directive before the June European elections unlikely.

EU agrees less ambitious rules on platform work

A new provisional agreement on the platform workers directive has been reached — but what has changed from the previous deal, and how will it affect the expected reclassification of 5.5 million platform workers as "employees"?

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