New opportunities created by the boom in platform work should not come at the expense of employment rights, the EU Commission said as it launched a consultation of gig economy regulations.
Driven by consumer demand during the covid-19 pandemic, the online labour platform market has grown by 30% worldwide in two years. A recent study found 35% to 55% of consumers intend to continue using home delivery services even post-pandemic.
Research also shows that 24 million people in Europe, just over 10% of the EU’s workforce, are estimated to have provided services through online platforms at least once. For around 3 million people, platform work is their primary source of income.
In a speech launching the consultation, EU Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager said that as the pandemic has accelerated the expansion of platform business models issues related to workers’ rights had become more apparent and needed to be addressed.
“Across Europe, people who work through platforms risk being left without an income and they are not always eligible for national support measures during lockdowns,” she said.
“And even those who have work – like the couriers or the drivers – they sometimes have poor working conditions with long hour shifts and little or no social protection in case they would fall ill. And no pension schemes and no access to training and skills development.
“Precarious work conditions may lead to even more vulnerability in difficult times. Way beyond covid, platform work is here to stay. So it is important to see how we secure a sustainable model for this new type of work.”
Online just as offline, all people should be protected and allowed to work safely and with dignity
Article 154(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides for a two-stage consultation of “social partners” for proposals in social policy. The first stage of consultation will run for six weeks and seeks input from platforms and workers on the areas for reform.
“In the midst of the digital transition, we cannot lose sight of the basic principles of our European social model,” said Nicolas Schmit, commissioner for jobs and social rights.
“We should make the most of the job-creating potential that comes with digital labour platforms, while ensuring dignity, respect, and protection for the people that work through them. Social partners’ views on this will be key in finding a balanced initiative for platform work in the EU.”
Assuming the areas of reform can be agreed upon, the consultation’s second stage is expected to take place before the summer and will focus on the content of new regulations.
Unless social partners decide to enter into negotiations among themselves following the first or second stages, the commission intends to produce legislative proposals by the end of the year.
“The key issue in our consultations is to find a balance between making the most of the opportunities of the platform economy and ensuring that the social rights of people working in it are the same as in the traditional economy,” added Vestager.
“It is also a matter of a fair competition and level playing field between platforms and traditional companies that have higher labour costs because they are subject to traditional labour laws.”
The commission also announced it will be launching a separate consultation to ensure that EU competition rules do not stand in the way of collective bargaining.
“The platform economy is here to stay – new technologies, new sources of knowledge, new forms of work will shape the world in the years ahead. And for all of our work on the digital economy, these new opportunities must not come with different rights,” said Vestager.
“Online just as offline, all people should be protected and allowed to work safely and with dignity.”
Earlier this month, ride-hailing platform giant Uber published a white paper as part of its EU lobbying effort aimed at safeguarding its business model.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has argued a one-size-fits-all approach to regulating the gig economy “isn’t suitable across Europe” as “better protections and benefits for platform work will be different from country to country”.
In her political guidelines, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed that “digital transformation brings fast change that affects our labour markets”. She undertook the commitment to “look at ways of improving the labour conditions of platform workers”.