The EU measures will take a while to come into effect but platform workers’ rights will be afforded legal protection that can be enforced by individual member states.
Today (13 December), the EU reached political agreement on a series of measures that aim to improve working conditions for people who work on an ‘ad-hoc’ basis for tech companies like Uber, Lyft, Just Eat, Amazon Flex and Deliveroo.
MEPs have been trying to bring up the issue of working conditions for what are known as ‘gig economy’ and ‘platform workers’ for several years. In 2021, MEPs proposed updates to the European legislative framework to give these workers the same rights as traditional employees.
Gig economy workers are considered self-employed by many companies that employ them. While this means they can set their own hours, it also means they are often denied access to social protection and other supports that they need. According to the latest EU developments, gig economy workers will eventually be afforded better protections under The Platform Work Directive.
In its briefings about the new directive, the EU refers to the workers as ‘platform workers’ which is an acknowledgement of the fact that many of the companies that rely on them are digital platforms that provide services. Typically, these services range from food delivery (Deliveroo, Just Eat) to transport (Uber, Lyft) to professional expertise in areas such as writing and IT (Upwork, Fiverr). Workers powering many of these companies are the modern equivalent of what used to be known as ‘odd-jobbers’ in the pre-internet days.
Commenting on the directive, Nicolas Schmit, commissioner for jobs and social rights, described it as a “historic achievement”.
“The platform economy has transformed the way we consume and work, and we want it to continue to thrive. At the same time, we have to make sure that it meets the same labour and social standards that offline companies adhere to. This is a question of fairness, for both workers and companies.”
‘A question of fairness’
“The new rules we have agreed [to] ensure platform workers, such as drivers and riders, receive the social and labour rights they are entitled to, without sacrificing the flexibility of the platform business model. Workers will also understand better how automated decisions are taken. Platforms will have legal certainty throughout the EU for the first time. And consumers will continue to enjoy access to platform services at their fingertips,” Schmit added.
The directive will require companies that rely on gig workers to keep their services running to legally acknowledge the employer-employee relationship – even if it is not traditional. This means that platform workers will be entitled to the labour and social rights associated with their ‘worker’ status, such as a minimum wage (where applicable), collective bargaining, working time and health protections, paid leave, unemployment and sickness benefits, and more. People who want to remain self-employed will be able to continue to carry out their activity without any change in their status.
Part of the directive is focused on promoting greater transparency in how these tech platforms use automated systems to manage decisions affecting working conditions, such as terminating accounts or data processing. Gig workers will gain new rights over their own data, including the right to transfer their data from one platform to another and continue working. There will be limits placed on the data digital employment platforms can collect; for example, they will not be allowed to process data on someone’s emotional or psychological state, or use AI to predict whether workers intend to join a trade union or go on a strike.
A long wait ahead
Unfortunately, for a lot of workers currently dealing with unsatisfactory conditions, the directive will have to go through a formal approval process by the European Parliament and Council and it will be a further two years before EU member states will have to have it incorporated into national law.
Once it does become law, individual member states will be able to get clear data on how many platform workers are employed by a particular company in their jurisdiction. They will be able to monitor companies to ensure they comply with their legal obligations to workers.
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