The Platform work directive: an insufficient step in the right direction

 The new directive is helpful, but it falls far short of meeting Volt’s expectations.

Apr 29, 2024
female delivery person walking upwardss on a stairway

The European directive aimed at regulating gig economy platforms - intermediaries between customers and self-employed workers such as Uber, Fiverr or Deliveroo - was passed last month by the European Council by a qualified majority.

Volt welcomes the existence and progress of this directive: the on-demand economy requires regulation that is both strong and protective. However, this directive fails to establish uniform regulation capable of having a significant effect.

Volt recognises and supports the transformation of employment and work in the 21st century. There are many advantages to an approach that offers workers autonomy and flexibility in terms of personal organisation and working hours. Transnational cooperation, work-life balance and a sense of satisfaction and autonomy are all benefits unique to the gig economy. However, gig workers today lack social protection, traditionally offered by the employment contract and collective agreements between worker and employer.

Long-awaited  legislation

The first objective of the directive, proposed by the European Commission in 2021, was to ensure the protection of workers, notably through the presumption of salaried status. While promoting flexible working is a step forward, the flexibility proposed by many platforms, such as Uber, is merely illusory. Self-employed workers are dependent on these platforms for prices, clients and rest time. Workers are thus doubly insecure, having neither the promised benefits of independence nor those of salaried employment.

The directive stipulates that in the event of a requalification request by a worker before an industrial tribunal, the latter will benefit from a presumption of salaried status, obliging the platform to demonstrate that the worker is indeed self-employed. This will come as a blow to the platforms: by reversing the burden of proof, the directive enables workers to have their rights recognised, without having to defeat Goliath.

Volt also welcomes the text's second major advance, which puts a stop to the generalised algorithmic surveillance of workers. Until now, platforms have been able to use personal data, private conversations and background audio recordings to judge a worker's suitability for work and make decisions on temporary or permanent expulsion, all without any human interaction.

There is an urgent need to prevent the automated casualisation of workers. Independence cannot be achieved by abandoning the barrier between professional and private life. From now on, not only will a human being have to make suspension decisions, but the reasons for such decisions and the data processed will have to be made available to the worker. This is a positive development.

 A regrettable loss of ambition

While these two advances are noteworthy and encouraging, and are accompanied by a number of other necessary measures, the directive has fallen victim to a lack of will on the part of certain member states, as the text has, unusually, been renegotiated three times.

In the course of these renegotiations, the directive's original ambition of harmonised European law on platform regulation has been lost. As it stands, the directive leaves too much room for transposition into national law. National parliaments will have full latitude to legislate on which cases fall within the scope of concealed employment, what the limits of data transparency are, and which cases oblige platforms to reconsider their relationships with their workers. Volt regrets this disappointing lack of harmonisation in many respects.

Firstly, this discrepancy continues to complicate the emergence of European companies capable of competing with American or British players, by creating disparities between similar territories. These disparities require resources that are more readily available to already established companies.

Secondly, without harmonisation, the European Union contradicts the overriding objective of facilitating European mobility. The gig economy brings unique flexibility and mobility, which Europe could particularly benefit from, by making it easier for every European to work in the country of their choice.

Lastly, Volt deplores the fact that such a directive does not help reduce economic disparities between European territories. By allowing different parliaments to create different social rights, the European Council is not helping to raise standards in a way that is fair and equivalent throughout Europe.

The directive is therefore a positive development in line with the measures proposed by Volt, enabling the emergence of more flexible, digital and mobile forms of work, while protecting workers from arbitrary decisions. Yet we regret this missed opportunity to fully embrace the fundamental transformation of our economies. Volt proposes to go further and fully integrate platform workers into our social security and social dialogue systems, and to do so in a harmonised way across Europe. This would ensure that all workers, especially those who are in a precarious position, have a minimum income at every stage of their lives. It is a necessary step to accompany the transformation of our economies and the emergence of the on-demand economy.

(Article by Volt France)