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 plaform work and published a Directive in December.

The Directive qualifies as employees all those working through platforms that control elements pertaining to their work performance. If properly applied, billions of workers in our transport sectors could look forward to employment status which will finally grant them health and safety standards, social protection, minimum wages and training.

However, there is still much work to be done as this Directive is currently just a Proposal and still needs to be voted to be transposed into national legislation. A lot can change until then, and we expect platform companies to put up a fight as this would end their exploitative business model.

Morever, 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.

Resources:

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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ETF manifesto proves fair platform work is possible if we stop allowing platforms to have their cake and eat it too!

The ETF proves that fair platform work is possible in its six-step manifesto. Fulfilling this vision requires platform companies to assume their responsibilities as employers and finally admit their workers are employees. Meaning they must adhere to regulations in place and ending their business model based on bogus self-employment and circumvention of labour and fiscal laws.

Press Release
25 Mar 2021