At the beginning of the recent electoral period of the EU, the European Commission under its President Ursula von der Leyen announced a series of initiatives in terms of digitalisation. By the end of the year 2020, the Commission will present a proposal to revise the legal rules regarding economic activities on online platforms. For the ongoing consultation, the AK provides a tool to facilitate the participation of platform workers.
There is a tremendous need to catch up when it comes to the legal framework for the digital world – this is also recognised by the European Commission. So far, there is mainly the e-Commerce Directive, which dates back 20 years already and stems from a time, when online platforms did not yet play a relevant role. Those outdated regulations are of particular benefit to digital corporations. For all other parties involved, however, the gaps in the EU legislation are having an increasingly negative effect. In a letter to the MEPs, AK has already pointed out the precarious working conditions of the employees in digital economy and drew attention to further problem areas that lead to unfair competition.
Need for reform in employee and consumer protection
Particularly as far as employees in the digital economy are concerned, there is often a lack of legally binding regulations regarding wages, working hours and employee protection. They officially work as self-employed, even though all criteria for employment are fulfilled.
In addition to the problem of bogus self-employment, there is also a great need for reform from the consumer’s perspective: there are no regulations on online advertising and the rankings according to which companies are displayed with their products are often are not comprehensible. There are numerous dubious and fraudulent offers on the internet, for which there is hardly any control so far. Unfair competition also plays a major role, for example the circumvention of profit tax payments and other duties. The proposal to extend the scope of EU tax transparency rules to digital platforms through the tax package presented in July is therefore to be welcomed.
Consultation with questions for online workers
A proposal for a new law on digital services is due to be published by the end of the year. A corresponding public consultation is already underway. The AK has already participated in this consultation, the answers are available for all interested parties on the AK EUROPA website. AK is thereby also dealing with topics such as the shifting of profits to countries with low tax rates, which give unfair competitive advantages to digital corporations, but are not mentioned within the questions of the consultation.
One section of the consultation deals in particular with the working conditions of employees in the digital economy. In some cases, the questions are even directed exclusively at online workers. While on one hand this is to be welcomed, on the other hand the vast majority of workers have no experience in responding to EU consultations.
AK provides assistance in filling in the questionnaire
The Austrian Chamber of Labour has therefore set up a special website to support the workers of online platforms in answering the questionnaire. A corresponding guideline is available at https://policyhack.eu. In addition, the Austrian Chamber of Labour has held free workshops in order to provide personal support to online workers.
Although the consultation mentions the working conditions of online workers, they unfortunately still play only a minor role in the preparatory work for the Digital Services Act. It is therefore even more important that as many stakeholders as possible take part in the consultation, because: How the planned legislative proposals will ultimately look in concrete terms will also depend on the extent of participation in the consultation and the responses given. In any case, a legislative proposal on digital services is to be published by the end of the year, and an initiative on the working conditions of platform workers is to follow next year.