The continuing Coronavirus crisis is shifting the purchase of goods and services even more towards the Internet and big online platforms are recording all-time high profits. At the same time, pressure is growing on platform workers, who suffered under often precarious and exploitative employment even before the crisis.
In particular the lockdown has once again placed greater public focus on the subject of platform work. The council meeting of employment and social policy ministers on 3 December 2020 also dealt with the challenges of the phenomenon of platformization and the possible role of the EU.
Over the past years, the range of online platforms has become increasingly diversified, making it possible to obtain a wide range of products and services. At the same time, the business model of many platforms increases social inequality, inequality of job and life opportunities between women and men as well as economic dependencies. In spite of this, no progress has been made at EU level to address these problems. A legislative proposal to improve the working conditions of people providing services through platforms has been held out in prospect for some time and is – in accordance with the Work Programme of the EU Commission – only planned for the 4th quarter 2021.
Debate in EU Parliament: Flexibility vs. Precarity
On 30 November 2020, an exchange under the title “Fair working conditions, rights and social protection for platform workers” was hosted by the EU Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, in which, among other, also Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, participated. He pointed out that platform work would provide many employees and self-employed with new opportunities. However, the argument of greater flexibility should not be misused as legitimation for precarity, the violation of labour laws and the lack of social protection. Nevertheless, there would hardly be a one-size-fits-all approach, which could be applied to all platforms without problem. According to the Commissioner, size and business models of the platforms would be to heterogeneous.
ETUC for protecting the rights of (non-standard) workers
European Trade Union Confederation’s (ETUC) Ludovic Voet criticised that the business model of online platforms would transfer risks and social costs to workers. As a result, large online platforms would have a competitive advantage, which would have a negative impact on those businesses that would comply with applicable rules. Apart from that, platform workers are above all members of particularly vulnerable groups – for example migrants or low-qualified workers – who have to carry out their work under precarious and exploitative working conditions. Introducing a third category of workers, in addition to employees and self-employed people has been rejected by both ETUC and Commissioner Schmit.
Also due to the refusal of many platforms to declare themselves to be employers, platform workers are still denied fundamental labour rights. Hence, platformization results in a systematic shortfall of statutory minimum and collective agreement wages. In addition, working conditions are often degrading, being far off the mental and physical breaking point of workers. Hence, at the end of October 2020, ETUC had already adopted a Resolution on the protection of the rights of (non-standard) workers in platform companies. The Resolution demands for example access to social protections as well as transparent and predictable working conditions, but also the right for platform workers, to organise and to collective bargaining.
AK: Fundamental labour rights are not negotiable!
From the AK’s point of view, it is necessary to end precarious employment on digital platforms with immediate effect. Comprehensive protection of workers must be ensured in the same way as are decent employment and the application of collective agreement provisions or minimum wage regulations. In case of doubt, it must also be noted that a dependent working relationship exists with the platform.
It must also be criticised that the subject of platform work in the Digital Services Act announced for next week will probably be widely ignored and that the Commission has only announced a relevant Communication for the end of next year. However, it is of vital importance that any further procedure is closely coordinated with the social partners and that trade unions and works councils will be involved in drawing up a possible law.
Chamber of Labour: Platform work – what to do? (German only)