By hosting a current event, which took place in Brussels on 3rd February, AK EUROPA, the Brussels Office of the Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour, and ÖGB Europabüro, the Brussels Office of the Austrian Trade Union Federation, addressed two important topics: platform work and minimum wages. Barbara Teiber, Chairwomen of the Austrian Union of Private Sector Employees, Printing, Journalism, and Paper (GPA-djp) and representatives of the European institutions as well as business discussed on those two issues, which will take an important role on Europe’s political agenda this year.
Platform work – challenges and solution approaches
Barbara Teiber, GPA-djp Chairwoman, opened the debate by stating that the issue of platform work would be a big challenge for trade unions. Apart from that, atypical employment had become a mass phenomenon. Amazon, for example, would exclusively work with temporary workers; the situation was similar for bike couriers. In the latter’s case, the trade union in Austria recently succeeded in concluding one of the first collective agreements. From a trade union perspective, it was necessary to develop new organisational approaches, which could take place both in real life as well as on the net.
The European Commission announced to organise a summit on the issue of platform work for the 3rd quarter 2020, the results of which shall be integrated in a legal act on platform work. From the Commission’s point of view, Santina Bertulessi, Deputy Head of Cabinet to Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, stated that one had to pursue a balanced approach in respect of platform work. The precarity of platform work would be a problem, also from the Commission’s perspective. It was important to find a solution for employees, who were engaged in platform work over extended periods. The considerations on platform work should also be incorporated into the planned Digital Services Act.
Agnes Jongerius, MEP and S&D EMPL-Committee Coordinator, pointed out that platforms presented themselves to the outside as “most modern employers”. However, people actually working via platforms would not be referred to as employees, but as “partners”, who would often work 60-80 hours. This model had now been confirmed by a questionable Dutch court ruling. Jongerius warned that the platform model might extend to other sectors, such as to supermarket cashiers and construction workers, as proposed by a new study of the bank ING.
Maxime Cerutti, Director of the Social Affairs Department at BusinessEurope, adopted a different position on platform work. Cerutti regarded it a phenomenon of the modernised economic system, which included both “differentiated realities” and “differentiated types of employment”. One also had to consider the perspective of businesses and the fact that not all people would pursue the target of participating in the labour market. From Cerutti’s point of view, it would make sense to tackle the issue within the scope of the European Semester.
Minimum wages in Europe
Together with the new Roadmap Social Europe, the EU Commission also initiated the first phase of the social partner consultation on the issue of fair minimum wages on 14th January 2020. The Commission regards the initiative on a European minim wage as an instrument to combat working poverty and growing inequality. On the panel of the event the Commission representative Santina Bertulessi emphasised once more that national collective agreement systems should not be challenged.
Barbara Teiber too reacted positively to the new Commission proposal on minimum ages. According to Teiber, working poverty and precarity would represent an increasing phenomenon also in Austria, for example in the services sector. Many people were no longer able to live on their wages. Austria was proud that 98 % were covered by collective agreements. In view of the specific regulation of a European minim wage, this might only be provided for in respect of countries, where fewer than 70 % were covered by collective agreements.
In contrast, Maxime Cerutti was opposed to a European approach, especially if done by European law. BusinessEurope would regard this as interference in different national systems. A possible approach would be - within the scope of the European Semester - to provide for some countries to be monitored. Here, Cerutti also demanded to link the minimum wage to an increase in productivity. As a further measure, it would be an idea to set up advisory committees, made up of employer and employee representatives.
Agnes Jongerius pointed out that the initiative had been proposed by the S&D faction and that her faction would therefore fight for this project. It had already become apparent that economic growth would not automatically result in an upwards convergence of wages. According to the ETUC campaign “Europe needs a pay rise”, not only minimum wages were required, but also general pay increases.