European Commission Takes First Steps to Ensure Platform Workers’ Protection
The Commission has recently launched a legislative initiative on improving the working conditions of platform workers which will support the implementation of principles contained in the European Pillar of Social Rights.
As the turmoil and disruption in labor markets caused by COVID-19 have increasingly stressed the workers’ need to use specific platforms as a day-to-day tool to ensure safer, smoother, and more flexible working conditions, applied protection to such changed parameters needs to be ensured.
Although such platforms offer many advantages, from increased job opportunities to more work flexibility, they also pose some risks to platform workers: exposure to health and safety or social protection challenges. In this context, a first-stage consultation with European social partners will determine possible EU actions to improve the working conditions in platform work.
What is a work platform?
A work platform is usually understood as a digital mediator between organizations or between organizations and individuals through which either different issues are solved, or even different compatible services are provided in exchange for payment. Few basic characteristics have been usually associated to such platforms, such as services being provided on demand or the fact that specific tasks or specific problems are carried out.
However, in practice, a strict distinction could be made between on-location platforms, such as passenger transportation platforms, and online labor platforms where the tasks that are provided through it are not location-dependent.
Recently, work platform challenges that should be tackled on a legislative level have been brought to attention by the Commission. The core issue refers to the employment status of people working through platforms, meaning that self-employed status of such workers does not usually fall under labor and social legislation at national and EU level, thus several consequences stemming from such lack of protection.
Essential features of traditional working conditions such as transparency and predictability tend to fade through platform working schemes, this being amplified by the fact that in some cases platform workers may need to simply accept the work-related terms and conditions stipulated by the digital labor platform, that may afterwards, without any notice, face changes.
Another key aspect taken in consideration should be related to earnings and working time variations. Although flexibility in working schedule could be beneficial, it can also become problematic when not all time spent on a digital labor platform is paid. Earnings-related issues also emphasize that platform work is considered outside the scope of minimum wage systems and social dialogue.
While labor platforms tend to act as points of contact between supply and demand, they are now a mechanism which is modifying the world of work. Despite many advantages offered, including the ability to adapt both workers and employers to the actual context faced by society, there are enough challenges that remain to be legally tackled.