Protecting the workers behind online platforms

If you’ve ever used an app for food delivery or to hail a ride then you’ve probably experienced platform work first hand. Simply put, platform work uses an online platform that allows you to access services in exchange for payment. But platform work though seemingly innocent and seen as technological advancement, has become a breeding ground for precarious work.

This new way of working that first began to emerge in Europe a decade ago is challenging existing labour laws and regulations protecting workers.

Online platforms deny their roles as employers, meaning they don’t pay social security contributions or taxes and classify their workers as “self-employed, ” leaving them without a social security net. This wouldn’t be an issue if their workers actually fit the conditions of self-employment. But when you work for an online platform that sets the prices, determines your salary and have no shares in the company, then you are an employee and the forced status of self-employment becomes bogus self-employment.

Because of bogus self-employment, workers behind ride-hailing and delivery services face a slew of problems:

  • Lack of social protection such as sick leave;
  • Lack of complaint process;
  • Lack of transparency in the organisation of work based on algorithms and monitoring;
  • Competitive pressure among workers, low pay, denying workers their rights to organise and lack of occupational safety and health.

As platform companies operate online, there is little regulation. Consequently, platforms have profited from this situation and structured their business models around the weaknesses in legislation and absence of enforcement. This gives them a competitive advantage compared to traditional companies bound by strict regulations.

Faced with this lack of legislation, workers have had to claim their right to fair work through independent collectives and groups supported by trade unions. Trade unions also fought to negotiate collective agreements – however CBAs can only apply to workers that have employee status; something that online platforms are well aware of.

Spurred by trade union action, the European Commission finally took a step towards fair platform work and published a Directive in December 2021.  After over a year of negotiations, on February 2, the European Parliament ratified its negotiating mandate for the Platform Work Directive, marking a significant step towards ending bogus self-employment and precarious work conditions in online platforms.

The European Parliament report would help deliver three things:

  • Correct employment classification giving workers the right to a proper employment contract through which they gain rights such as paid sick leave, paid holidays and rates of pay according to national legislation/collective agreements.
  • Ensuring the freedom of genuine self-employed workers and protecting them from subordination.
  • Fair competition between companies, ensuring a level playing field so those that respect the law aren’t disadvantaged.

The European Parliament text will form the basis of the trilogue negotiations with the Council (member states) and the European Commission. However, the Council has not yet found a consensus position and has been focused on the number of criteria needed to trigger the presumption of employment, weakening the presumption and favoring platforms at the expense of protections for platform workers.

The European Parliament and the European Commission are waiting for the outcome of member states’ discussions at the Council under the Swedish presidency. The European Commission and European Parliament have stressed the importance of the Council finding a general approach (political consensus) soon so that trilogue negotiations can begin.

The European Commission’s initial proposal and the current Council positions are very different to the European Parliament’s position.

The trilogue negotiations will take place between the European Parliament, the Council, and the European Commission, and the fundamental differences will have to be resolved for the platform directive to be adopted in this legislative mandate, which ends in 2024.

Spain will take over the Council presidency from Sweden in June 2023, and the ETF will watch developments closely. We will continue to advocate with the Council to fight for the strongest protection for platform workers and to not exclude sectors such as taxi dispatch services.

Moreover, our fight for platform work goes beyond the EU:

ETF stands ready to fight for:

  • Fair working conditions for the workers (social protection, OHS, living wages);
  • Rebuttable presumption of the employment status for platform workers;
  • Transparent algorithms under human control (including no automated decision-making concerning deactivations);
  • Information, consultation and negotiation rights concerning working conditions, pay and algorithms for workers’ representatives;
  • Formal grievance and appeal procedures;
  • Access to data by the competent authorities in justified cases of suspected algorithm-biases or other irregularities.


Have a look at our Manifesto for Fair Platform Work and our Poster explaining the European Commission’s proposal. Available to download at your right.


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