EU takes long-overdue first step towards fair platform work

8 Dec 2021

Early signals indicate that tomorrow’s European Commission directive on platform work will in part make good on their promise to improve the working conditions of platform workers. End to bogus self-employment, a presumption of employment status, a reversal of the burden of proof of employment status – all key demands of the ETF, put forward in our vision for fair platform work.

As unions, we have always known that the only way to curb the platform economy’s unfair business models and practices is through a robust legislative framework. With platforms companies benefitting from legal loopholes to falsely classify all their workers as self-employed to deny them basic labour rights and maximise profits, it was about time the European Commission stepped in.

The proposal is expected to qualify as employees all those working through platforms that control elements pertaining to the performance of their work. 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.

The directive also seems to solve another conundrum: placing the burden of proof of employment on the company if the latter contests employment status. A welcome relief for many transport workers and their unions who have had to take companies to court to prove their status as employees.

However, the ETF takes this with a grain of salt as the proposal seems to introduce five criteria areas to determine the employee status, which could leave ample room for platform companies to circumvent these new rules. There is also a question of who will be competent to establish whether criteria are met? Will this be a direct competence of Member States or will this be subject to court proceedings – if the latter, this provision comes as a big disappointment.

The proposal is just the first step of many on a long legislative train, and there is still progress to be made. The directive is also expected to:

  • Address transparency of algorithms to ensure fairness and accountability of decisions taken or supported by automated systems, as well as human monitoring of the impact automated systems have on working conditions; this, to safeguard basic workers’ rights and health and safety at work
  • Fully foster workers’ rights to unionise, and list digital platform companies as employers, assigning them the obligation to engage in collective bargaining negotiations

For ETF President Frank Moreels:

“This proposal is down to union pressure and the political and industrial action of ETF and our unions. Together, we denounced the spread of precarious work in transport through the platform model, and the European Commission finally woke up.

Our trade unions and transport workers across Europe have led the way through their multiple court victories against platform companies as well as through their industrial fights.

Time and time again, they proved that this business model based on bogus self-employment and exploitation of the welfare state cannot continue and that this is a European problem that requires a European solution.

We remain cautious, however, and will closely follow the legislative process – this is just the beginning of the battle for a strong set of rules that will protect our transport workers and ensure fair competition”.