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Vulcan Insight | EU Commission seeks input for gig economy workers’ rights

When Ursula von der Leyen presented her Agenda for Europe as a European Commission presidential candidate advocating a ‘Union that strives for more’, she singled out the fact that “digital transformation brings fast change that affects our labour markets.” She committed at that time to “look at ways of improving the labour conditions of platform workers.” Since then, gig economy workers have played an increasingly crucial role in the provision of services across the EU as the pandemic has unfolded.

This week, in collaboration with Jobs Commissioner, Nicolas Schmit, Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, launched the first stage of the European Commission’s consultation of social partners on how to improve the working conditions for people working through digital labour platforms.

Platform work is becoming increasingly prominent across the EU in a wide variety of sectors. In many instances, it can offer increased flexibility, job opportunities and supplementary income, including for those who may otherwise find it more difficult to enter traditional employment.

However, the Commission also recognises that certain types of platforms are also associated with precarious working conditions which are reflected in the lack of transparency and predictability of contractual arrangements, health and safety challenges and insufficient access to social protection.

Jobs Commissioner, Nicolas Schmit said: “In the midst of the digital transition we cannot lose sight of the basic principles of our European social model. We should make the most of the job creating potential that come with digital labour platforms, while ensuring dignity, respect and protection for the people that work through them.”

The move comes at a crucial time. On Wednesday, gig economy workers protested outside the European Commission in Brussels, calling for their working rights to be improved, rejecting suggestions from the likes of Uber for a “third way” which would supposedly give workers some basic protections while retaining their independent worker status.

In Milan this week, the public prosecutor issued fines of €733 million to Just Eat, Uber Eats, Glovo and Deliveroo for violation of health and safety at work regulations, giving the four platforms 90 days to hire their gig economy workers as employees. Italy joins Spain, the Netherlands, France and Belgium who have all ruled in favour of increasing gig economy workers’ rights.

Meanwhile, in the UK the British Supreme Court ruled that drivers deserve more protections than what Uber offers, classifying its 60,000 drivers as “workers” and insisting that these workers are entitled to benefits including a minimum wage, working time protections and holiday pay, as well as protection from unfair dismissal.

The consultation will be open for six weeks and the Commission intends to put forward a legislative initiative by the end of 2021.

Compliments of Vulcan Consulting – a member of the EACCNY.