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3rd Dec 2023

Crunch point in talks on EU gig workers' employment status

  • From 2016 to 2020, revenues in the platform economy increased from an estimated €3 billion to around €14 billion (Photo: Unsplash)
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After months of almost no progress, EU institutions will meet again on Thursday (9 November) to negotiate the final text of the directive on digital platform workers — which is now in danger of stalling until after the 2024 elections.

The legislation, which would be legally-binding on member states, aims to bring greater transparency and regulation to the gig economy and improve the working conditions for delivery couriers, taxi drivers, or even carers.

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The trilogues started in July, but the positions of the EU institutions could not be further apart, especially those of the European Parliament and the Council of the EU, making progress slow to the point of stalemate.

The main bone of contention is the 'legal presumption of employment', a clause that the commission estimates could reclassify some 5.5 million workers, from a total of 28 million.

And while the presumption of employment would not mean the immediate reclassification of these workers, it would ensure that those who are bogusly forced to be 'self-employed' gain some basic rights as employees.

So far, independent or self-employed workers for companies such as Uber or Deliveroo are not offered paid holidays, social security, or unemployment benefits.

"Without a contract, we can be sacked in a second with a message on our mobile phone, without being able to defend ourselves," said a group of eight couriers who are currently on their way to Brussels to demand a directive that enshrines a presumption of employment.

The riders, from six different EU countries, are cycling from Paris to Brussels to make their voices heard in the negotiations on the directive and to counterbalance the influence of the 'Big Gig' companies lobbying in the EU capital.

"We want to prevent them [digital platforms] from changing the law in their favour, to the detriment of workers," they said in a statement.

From 2016 to 2020, revenues in the platform economy increased from an estimated €3bn to around €14bn.

Since 2013, Uber has spent €5m lobbying the EU, according to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), which points out that Uber has also flooded social media in Belgium with more than 100 ads since 25 September in an attempt to water down the EU directive.

"Platform lobbyists are throwing big money at advertising because they know they have a broken business model based on denying the most basic workers' rights to their hardworking employees," ETUC confederal secretary Ludovic Voet said.

Spain holds the presidency of the council until December, and although negotiations have advanced slowly, diplomatic sources confirmed to EUobserver that a final agreement is expected to be reached by then. The Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group to which the parliament's rapporteur belongs is also committed to this date.

But that's a deadline that for other MEPs, such as French MEP Leila Chaibi of The Left, is less significant then if it means agreeing on a directive that is pro-platform rather than pro-worker.

"In my opinion, it would be better not to have a directive than to have a bad directive," she told EUobserver — stressing the importance of having a clear and robust presumption of employment.

For organizations such as Fairwork, all workers, regardless of employment status, should be entitled to basic rights and protections.

This means that even those who remain self-employed should have "at least" a minimum wage, health and safety protection, basic social security, contractual transparency, due process, anti-discrimination protection, freedom of association, and the expression of a collective voice.

During the past months of talks, how to determine the correct employment status of these gig workers has been the real crux of the inter-institutional negotiations.

The commission's original proposal foresaw that a worker would be reclassified if two out of five criteria indicating subordination of worker to platform were met — unless the platform proved otherwise.

The parliament agreed on a broader scope, activating this presumption for any element of control and direction from platform to a worker.

And the council, after deep internal divisions, decided that the presumption would be triggered if three out of seven criteria were met — including limitations on their ability to refuse work or rules on their appearance or behaviour.

"The proposals also fail to create an obligation for platforms to introduce any form of collective representation mechanism such as a worker representative or a workers' assembly", Fairwork representatives told EUobserver.

"Without these measures, workers will continue to be denied direct avenues to resolve concerns with platforms", Fairwork said.

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