28th Jan 2023

Improving conditions for gig workers splits MEPs

  • EU Commission estimates suggest that between 1.7 and 4.1 million workers are currently misclassified as 'self-employed' (Photo: The Left)
Listen to article

Self-employed or employed? This question is at the heart of the negotiations of the proposal for an EU directive on improving the conditions of platform workers.

Home-delivery riders, or Uber-style app drivers are some of those who compose a sector estimated by the EU Commission to employ more than 28 million people. The number has been growing for years, and is expected to keep rising, reaching 43 million workers in the next two years.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The sector boomed to a record nearly €14bn in profits in 2020, but European legislation is still a step behind: the labour rights of these workers are not covered by the existing regulations.

Under pressure to improve their conditions, the commission presented a proposal for a directive at the end of 2021.

In December, the council failed to reach an agreement on its position, so it remains divided between those who advocate a pro-worker directive, and those who do not. And the European Parliament, the third axis in this relationship, was supposed to vote this Thursday (19 January) whether the report of the employment committee voted upon last month will be the institution's position in the trilogue negotiation.

However, MEPs are divided, and the text could be rejected in a plenary vote that has now been postponed for two weeks (until 2 February), after 71 MEPs who disagreed with the committee report wanted more time to insert amendments before the trilogues started.

That is unusual considering it was voted for by a large majority in the committee itself, MEP Alicia Homs pointed out on Wednesday.

The S&D MEP pointed out this has only happened with seven of 82 plenary mandates during this legislature, and added: "One cannot help but wonder what is behind the deliberate delay of some negotiations on a directive that aims to ban bogus self-employment on platforms."

For the general secretary at the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) Ludovic Voet, it is a simpler matter. "Do MEPs want working people to have fair and decent employment, or do they want fake self-employment to become even more widespread?," he said on Tuesday .

The classification crux

At the heart of the changes this proposal, binding for all member states, would entail, is the reclassification of the workers of these platforms. EU Commission estimates suggest that, currently, between 1.7 and 4.1 million workers are misclassified as self-employed, although ETUC believes there could be a higher number.

"Workers who are forced to accept tasks or cannot set their own price are not actually self-employed", the European Confederation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives (CECOP) told EUobserver. CECOP includes cooperatives compliant with the regulations, which they complain is unfair competition.

Given the reluctance of those who oppose the inclusion of the 'presumption of employment' in the report (ie, which implies that platform workers will be platform employees unless the platform can prove otherwise), reclassifying them does not imply taking away the "flexibility" of these workers, CECOP explained.

"Misclassification of workers happens when platforms force them to work as self-employed and to obey strict guidelines determined by the platform", CECOP representatives pointed out, stressing both the parliament text and the commission's initial proposal.

BusinessEurope, the employers' organisation, however, is opposed to this modification, which they label as an "irresponsible solution" leaving it to individual platform workers to trigger the presumption, without giving time they deemed adequate for a response.

The employers' representatives declined to comment to EUobserver beyond its official statement sent to the EU institutions.

"Platform work is, ultimately, work", said a joint letter in October from trade unions, cooperative enterprises, and non-governmental organisations to the European institutions in the hope of an effective directive.

Several months later, they continue to argue that achieving the correct legal status for each worker is essential for them to have access to minimum working conditions, such as enjoying social protection, accident cover, or the right to vacation days without penalising the worker's rating.

The directive seeks not only to recognise the correct legal status of these workers, but also to protect them from algorithmic control and the use of subcontractors to continue poor working conditions.

"We strongly support the requirements of transparency of information concerning the use of automated monitoring and decision-making systems," SOLIDAR & SOLIDAR Foundation, a network of over 50 European civil society organisations, told this media. Thus, they are calling on the EU and its national governments to better develop skills and knowledge to understand how these algorithms and software work, in order to build "a more democratically organised platform economy".

"This is a first crucial step towards protecting all workers against the abuse of algorithms. Automated decision-making systems cannot be black boxes," said Elisabetta Gualmini, the leading MEP, in December.

Online platforms need regulating, Jourova warns

The EU commission vice-president pledged to tackle disinformation by regulating platforms and cleaning up online political advertising rules. She also pointed to Russia and China as wanting to undermine European democracy.

Brussels unveils rules for Uber, Deliveroo, and other gig workers

The European Commission has unveiled a proposal aimed at improving employment conditions for gig workers, such as Uber drivers or Deliveroo riders. But industry players claim new rules would lead to the loss of thousands of jobs in the EU.


Gig economy workers need EU to end digital modern-day slavery

On Wednesday, the European Parliament is to adopt a report calling on the EU Commission to propose laws to better protect platform workers. The S&D want to ensure platform workers can be considered employees, with full social and worker's rights.

Boom in software spying on remote workers, MEPs hear

Companies are increasingly using software to spy on employees working remotely, said Polish computer forensics analyst Maciej Broniarz. "The market for highly intrusive spyware is snowballing," Broniarz told MEPs.

Latest News

  1. Pressure mounts on EU to coordinate visas for Russian rights-defenders
  2. Dutch set to agree to US-led chip controls to China
  3. No record of Latvian MEP's 'official' Azerbaijan trip
  4. Why the new ECHR Ukraine-Russia ruling matters
  5. Europe continues to finance Russia's war in Ukraine with lucrative fossil fuel trades
  6. Official: EU parliament's weak internal rule-making body leads to 'culture of impunity'
  7. Red tape border logjam for EU's 1.3m 'frontier workers'
  8. Greece's spy scandal must shake us out of complacency

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights (EPF)Launch of the EPF Contraception Policy Atlas Europe 2023. 8th February. Register now.
  2. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains
  3. Forum EuropeConnecting the World from the Skies calls for global cooperation in NTN rollout
  4. EFBWWCouncil issues disappointing position ignoring the threats posed by asbestos
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  2. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  3. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  5. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  6. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us