On May 18th the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy as well as the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection – as the last ones of several committees of the European Parliament – delivered their opinion on the communication of the Commission on online-platforms. The final debate and vote on the proposal concerned and on one on the “collaborative economy” is planned in June 2017.
Already in mid 2016, in the framework of its strategy on the digital single market (which has been revised mid-May), the European Commission presented its position on how platform markets and platform corporations such as Uber, AirBnB or Clickworker are (not) to be regulated on a European level in two communications on online-platforms and the „collaborative economy“.
The Commission uses a broad definition of “online-platforms” and for instance also considers social media and search engines as such. On its core, the term “collaborative economy“ (as used by the Commission) defines the phenomenon which might more precisely be referred to as platform economy or gig-economy. With regard to online-platforms, the Commission does not explicitly deal with questions of labour, social security or tax justice, but rather restricts its statements to questions of free and non-discriminatory access to markets, the creation of trust between market participants, equal regulation for similar services and sector specific regulations to avoid hate speech, copyright infringement and youth-endangering contents. However, in its communication on the so called “collaborative economy” the European commission deals with important questions, such as: Are platforms themselves service providers? Are crowdworkers employees, or genuinely self-employed? How to enable a collaboration between tax authorities and those platforms? In all of this questions, however, basically one and the same answer is given: All of these issues shall be handled with on a national level, while easy access to the market needs to be provided.
With Joachim Schuster (S&D) as rapporteur, the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament adopted an opinion on these proposals, which goes far beyond this point of view. The adopted opinion calls for the introduction of standards for transparency and disclosure requirements for platform operators in order to monitor tax payments and the payment of social security contributions. The Commission is also asked to carry out a study on the effects of digital change on the quality of work and the situation of workers and employees and further to examine the extent to which platforms are similar to temporary work agencies. Finally, the Committee unambiguously supports the freedom of association and collective bargaining for platform workers. The last item was also adopted in a similar form by the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection.
The Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection also supports the idea that equal services should be treated equally with regard to tax purposes and also with regards to the platform economy taxes should be paid where profit is generated. A joint statement on the Communication on online platforms with the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy exhibits a stronger industrial perspective in their Communication on online platforms. They also criticize the lack of transparency and the unequal treatment of equal services – still amendments advocating in favour of a stronger regulation and a clear distinction between commercial and non-profit-platforms, or warned of wage dumping through crowdwork, were rejected or compromised by a majority.
The vote on the various committees' reports is scheduled for mid-June in the plenary session of the European Parliament. At the same time, parts of the Commission are taking a step further and are now also starting a debate on the social security and the working conditions of platform workers.
The Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion has invited the European social partners to a consultation on how to provide social protection in new forms of employment (including platform labour) and which written information has to be made available by employers (and possibly also by platform companies). In any case, by the means of proposals for European legal acts, the debate could go further into the question of social dimensions and could gain a stronger focus on employees.