The European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) explores the field of platform work and reacts with a publication on the meagre data situation. The ETUI discussed the results of this study and other research in the field of digital work in an expert round on 18.02.2020.
Platform work - hence work, which is organised via platforms - is rapidly increasing. Various studies reach different results concerning the number of people working on platforms and also identify differences between countries. Even if the number of those, who are working regularly on platforms, is currently still fairly low and not much is known about them. Due to the growing significance of platform work and the often bad working conditions associated with it, there is clearly a need to take action. Hence, it is all the more to be welcomed that the Commission is not only looking into the subject, but has planned a summit for the 3rd quarter, from which a legal act shall follow.
However, reviews are required to find out more about this new group of employees. In order to improve the data situation and to gain better understanding of platform work, Agnieszka Piasna and Jan Drahokoupil are researching this topic. Both are working for the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) and have been reviewing Internet and in particular platform work in five countries - Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia. Their study shows that typical platform workers are in many respects very similar to other employees. Hence, there are hardly any differences in respect of age, upright studies and gender. The image of young students, whose work for platforms is above average, can therefore not be confirmed. However, compared to average employees, it has been shown that precariousness is higher among platform workers. At 61.5 %, the likelihood of being in an open-ended full-time job is below the average of 76.7 % for other employees. The majority of platform workers also work in the non-digital labour market. There is also no indication that platform work leads to integration in the labour market.
Irene Mandl, Head of Employment Unit in der European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) and research manager of the project Digital labour. Employment and working conditions of selected types of platform work, stated that employment in the platform sector is not only growing in numbers, but that it also has become increasingly more diverse. Due to this heterogeneity, it is not possible to gather everyone under some single employment status however, the current classification based on traditional categories is not exactly the bee´s knees either. Hence, some are officially working for platforms as pseudo self-employed even though they are actually in an employment relationship, which entitles them to continued remuneration in case of leave or illness, for example. Trade unions have already been successful in the fight against such misclassifications. Even though the isolation of platform workers makes trade union organisation in general more difficult there have already been various protests and mergers - the A&W Blog reported. According to the Eurofound Study, platform work involves not only risks but also opportunities. However, new regulations are required - among other in respect of implementing minimum standards for platform work or a monitoring of developments and a fair, transparent rating system.
Justin Nogarede, representing the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), also participated in the discussion and established a connection between platform work and poverty. However, more research has to be done to explain this link. Various explanatory models are possible. For example, it could be connected to tourism, with a higher share of platform work in low-income countries or a lack of job opportunities for migrants in the traditional labour market. Platform work shows how important social security is for people who are not in a “normal” employment relationship. Mandl agreed with Nogarede that the current discussions on platform work show various problems, which are also relevant to other employment situations. She emphasised that good regulations for atypical work in general are needed at EU level.
Ignacio Doreste also points out how important it is now to put pressure on the Commission. In individual cases, trade unions have already worked successfully with platforms. For example, the Austrian social partners were able to negotiated the world´s first collective agreement for bike couriers, which came into effect at the beginning of the year. However, it is open to question how many of the couriers will be working as employees in this sector from 2020. It is precisely this kind of collective agreement coverage, that is welcome and should be striven for. Apart from that, not only the regulation platform work, but a regulation of all atypical types of employment, hence employees without a full-time job, is key. Platforms are an extreme form of outsourcing individual activities, which has been carried to extremes, where any risks are shifted to the individual. Such a platformization of work including poor working conditions and a lack of social security must be combated!