On 8 December 2022, ministers of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council were able to make progress regarding important issues concerning the European Pillar of Social Rights – for example in the fight against asbestos at the workplace or in respect of long-term care. However, the Council has not been able to adopt a common position for platform work. But there was positive news regarding this issue from the EU Parliament, where the Employment Committee adopted its report on 12 December 2022.
Platform work: ambitious EU Parliament – it is now up to the Council to follow!
Positive news for workers in the platform economy came this week from the EU Parliament, where the Report of EP Rapporteur Elisabetta Gualmini (S&D) on platform work was adopted with a clear majority by 41 to 12 votes. A particular welcome aspect of the EU Parliament report is the fact that this includes a “genuine reversal of the burden of proof” for the employee status: according to this, platform workers can obtain the right to be classified as employee. Platforms in turn have the right to contest this new classification; however, they carry the burden of proof for the rebuttal. The EU Parliament also sees more transparency concerning management decisions, which are taken by algorithms, as well as improved law enforcement and greater involvement by national supervisory authorities.
In contrast, the current negotiations on the Platform Work Directive in the Council have been disappointing: here, the Czech Presidency had developed an agreement, which, however, did not secure the necessary qualified majority vote in the Council on 8 December 2022. Seven Member States, among them Belgium and Spain, which thought that the Czech proposal was lacking in ambition to protect platform workers adequately, voted against the proposal. The Council will now continue to negotiate under the Swedish Presidency. From AK’s point of view it is important that the Council soon follows Parliament in order to also reach an agreement, which protects platform workers effectively. What is imperative is a practical regulation on the employee status and on the reversal of the burden of proof. Proposals, such as the one by the Czech Presidency, according to which the statutory presumption shall not apply to tax and social security issues, must be rejected.
Asbestos, care, minimum income – important decisions by the Council
Apart from the negotiations on platform work, the Council also took decisions in respect of other important social policy issues. It is fundamentally positive that the social policy agenda within the scope of the European Pillar of Social Rights will be continued with a wide range of projects.
The Council has adopted an agreement to improve the protection of employees against asbestos, even though it is lacking in ambition. It has to be criticised that the exposition limit only provides for 0.01 fibres per cm³ and not 0.001 fibres per cm³ as requested by EU Parliament or AK. It should be welcomed that the Member States have been urged to use a more modern method, such as electron microscopy, to count asbestos fibres.
A Recommendation for reasonably priced, high quality long-term care, which provides for principles for accessible, affordable and better care, has also been adopted. Also to be welcomed is another adopted Recommendation on early childhood care, which provides for revising the original Barcelona targets on childcare. From AK’s point of view, it is very positive that more attention is now being paid to the issue of care work at European level, even if the now adopted Recommendations can only be regarded as first steps and that further binding measures will be necessary.
Also positive is the political agreement of the Member States regarding a Council Recommendation on adequate minimum income. From AK’s point of view, the issues addressed in the Council Recommendation are of utmost importance, as well developed minimum income systems, additional social benefits and services of social infrastructure are playing a fundamental role in fighting poverty and social exclusion. As a follow-up action, AK supports a legally binding Minimum Income Directive.