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22nd Feb 2024

EU gig workers compromise dubbed ‘a disaster for workers’

  • The Commission estimates that there are between 1.7 and 4.1 million workers who would be reclassified under this new directive (Photo: Unsplash)
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After several failed attempts to reach a common position, the EU Council could finally reach an agreement on rules for so-called platform workers' at their ministerial meeting in Luxembourg on Monday (June 12).

The latest meeting of the committee of permanent representatives took place on Wednesday (June 7), but failed to forge a united front, so the ball is now in the ministers' court.

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At stake is whether the tripartite negotiations with the European Parliament and the EU Commission can begin with a view to adopting the directive to improve the labour conditions of gig workers, and to achieve greater transparency and regulation of the algorithmic management of operators such as Uber.

"Although a definitive agreement on the text has not been found in the committee of permanent representatives", reads the memo from the meeting, seen by EUobserver, "the presidency's efforts have attracted increasing support and there exists a widespread view that the text represents the centre of gravity between the diverging views of delegations".

The disagreement between delegations is clear, but various diplomatic sources told EUobserver that although the balance is very "tight", an agreement could be reached in the employment, social policy, health, and consumer affairs council (EPSCO).

The reason for the divergence was the chapter on the employment status of these workers, the "politically most sensitive part of the proposal", according to the Swedish text.

While countries such as Spain and the Netherlands argued from the outset for stricter rules on the reclassification of these gig workers, others such as France and the Nordic countries pushed for more flexible rules.

The so-called 'legal presumption' or 'presumption of employment' means that if a number of criteria are met, platform workers are considered to be employees, unless the platform proves otherwise.

The commission estimates that there are between 1.7 and 4.1 million workers who would be reclassified under this new directive, giving them access to basic rights such as parental leave, sick pay or holiday pay.

"The latest leaks of the council's compromises are a disaster for workers," said Leïla Chaibi (The Left), one of the MEPs leading the parliament's report. "I am especially outraged to know that it was France, my member state, that pushed them to be so bad".

"They want a lot of exceptions and exemptions to protect the French model, which is based on a bogus collective bargaining," Chaibi said. "All that French government is doing is to defend platforms like Uber and Deliveroo".

The leftwing MEP does not see the council's position as being in line with the commission's proposal or the text agreed in parliament.

The changes made to the EU council text during the Swedish presidency have been minor, and even those who were more ambitious at the beginning of these negotiations are now showing some conformity with the latest compromise proposal.

Could the text be more ambitious? Yes, but another internal council document, dated 2 June, said that "any further changes could only be very limited".

Three days before the ministerial meeting, not all countries have decided their position, such as Germany, which has yet to reveal which side it will take (if any, as it has previously abstained from speaking out.)

If a qualified majority is not reached on Monday, the helm of the negotiations will pass to Spain, which will hold the rotating presidency of the EU council from July onwards.

A lame duck directive?

The use of intermediaries was another area where delegations wished to draw the commission's attention.

However, the EU executive's original proposal did not consider them, and in the end this point was added as something to be taken into account when analysing the impact of the directive. In other words, in about seven years' time, taking into account the two years of implementation and the remaining five years until this evaluation is carried out.

Workers who offer their services through intermediaries are exposed to the same risks of misclassification as those who offer their services directly to the platform.

In order for the former to enjoy the same protection under this directive as the latter, the delegations state that "member states should therefore lay down adequate measures, including by establishing systems of joint responsibility, if appropriate".

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.

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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.

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