The law on platform workers aims to provide social protection for millions of 'gig economy' workers (Photo: Unsplash)

MEPs celebrate victory as Parliament approves Platform Work Directive

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MEPs finalised a new law on gig economy workers on Wednesday (24 April) as they rushed to conclude dozens of outstanding laws at the European Parliament's final plenary session in Strasbourg before June's European elections.

The platform work directive, which aims to increase protection for the millions of European workers in the so-called “gig economy”, like food delivery riders or Uber-drivers, is one of several proposals to clinch last-minute ratification, overcoming numerous setbacks. 

“It has been a hard battle against the aggressive lobbying of platform giants,” said Italian social democrat Elisabetta Gualmini, who led the parliament's negotiations on the file, but she concluded that in the end, “social Europe won.”

Most significantly, the directive introduces a “presumption of employment”, which aims to combat the exploitation of workers with a false self-employment status, by putting the burden of proof with platforms to demonstrate that workers are truly self-employed. 

The directive was welcomed by French Left MEP Leïla Chaibi, as “a step forward for millions of workers, who will at last have access to labour law, paid vacations, minimum wage and pensions.”

The law also includes a prohibition on algorithmic management, and improved data protection for workers.

Tortuous negotiations

Similar to the supply-chain due diligence law and the forced labour ban, the directive on platform work survived tortuous negotiations, reaching the finish line only just before the end of the legislature. 

A blocking minority of member states toppled a deal between the council, commission and parliament twice in a row, first during the Spanish presidency in December and again in February under the Belgian presidency. 

Opposition was led by France, joined by Germany, Estonia and Greece, and primarily focused on the presumption of employment. 

In a last-ditch effort to save the law, the Belgian presidency further weakened the proposal. Replacing common criteria for false self-employment with a delegated responsibility for such criteria to national authorities, the new compromise moved Greece and Estonia to lend their support.  

Lobbying reports

Negotiations were continually accompanied by reports of intense lobbying on behalf of platform work companies, with a 2022 study by the Observatoire des Multinationales highlighting ties between Uber and France.

More recently, Corporate Observatory Europe has obtained emails exposing aggressive efforts by Bolt to influence the Estonian position on the directive, as reported by Euractiv. 

MEP’s lambasted the member states’ tough resistance. Chaibi cast the directive as a victory after “five years of struggle on the side of workers against lobbyists and Macron.” 

Similarly, German centre-right MEP Dennis Radtke castigated French and German leadership for “abstaining in the Council until the very end” which raised “questions about Olaf Scholz' and Emmanuel Macron's commitment to the well-being of workers in the gig economy.”

Missed opportunity

But putting member states in control of the criteria for false employment has met with criticism, including from platform companies themselves. 

Speaking to EUobserver, Uber reiterated their position that the directive was a “missed opportunity”, and maintained the status quo of member states taking unilateral decisions. 

Though he was supportive of the law, Ben Wray, analyst for the Gig Economy Project, worried about implementation at the national level as well. 

“Digital labour platforms will be determined to resist the law if penalties for bogus self-employment are lower than the additional labour costs,” Wary said, pointing to the example of Spain, where a strong national law presuming employment has been ignored by several companies. 

Effective implementation of the law would require strong labour inspectors, Wary added, who are “willing to pursue criminal as well as civil cases against corporate giants.”

Author Bio

Piet Ruig is a Brussels-based journalist who previously worked for the Dutch public broadcaster VPRO.

The law on platform workers aims to provide social protection for millions of 'gig economy' workers (Photo: Unsplash)


Author Bio

Piet Ruig is a Brussels-based journalist who previously worked for the Dutch public broadcaster VPRO.