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The regulatory balancing act of platform work

On 24 February, the World Employment Confederation-Europe gathered experts for a discussion about online talent platform work and how to harness its potential while respecting workers’ rights and ensuring fair competition. The complexity of the platform economy is creating some challenges for online talent platforms and the labour markets.  

Published on 25th February 2021

Finding a job in one click, working the number of hours that you want… online talent platforms offer new opportunities for many people to access the labour markets. But online talent platforms are not homogeneous and the employment status, working conditions and social protection they offer can vary considerably. Working via an online talent platform does not constitute a new legal form of work as such but it does present a new way of organising and distributing work. As such, it rightly comes with expectations of decent work.

On 24 February, the World Employment Confederation-Europe organised a debate with two Members of the European Parliament working on a report on working conditions, rights and social protection for platform workers, the European Commission, the European cross-industry employers’ federation BusinessEurope, the think-tank CEPS and Zenjob, a German platform-based solution connecting students with jobs.

All panelists  agreed that online platforms have great potential to offer more opportunities of access to the labour market and to contribute to the growth of the European economy. But this cannot be done at the expense of workers’ rights and competition law when it comes to collective bargaining rights and representation of self-employed. Where opinions differed is whether an EU Directive is the right legislative instrument to get that balance right – especially, given the high heterogeneity of online platforms not only in the types of services provided but also in the level of qualifications of workers.

For BusinessEurope, the classification of workers would for instance be very difficult to solve at EU level. National systems differ too much, and these specificities should be respected. For Zenjob, a more harmonised EU approach on minimum standards applicable to platform work would give more legal certainty to online talent platforms and enable them to scale up their activities and expand across Europe. That legal certainty would also encourage platforms to invest in their workers, for instance in training, and retain them for a more longer-term perspective.

MEP Sylvie Brunet highlighted the need to protect social rights of platform workers and flags heterogeneity of platforms. MEP Adam Kosa also believes in the need to find innovative solutions that protects all parties involved. There are many good practices across Europe that can be looked at to develop innovative solutions while respecting national frameworks. He also pointed out to the need for online platforms to be accessible to all and respect all legal requirements.

The European Commission is currently preparing a legislative initiative on platform work. As a first step, it launched on 24 February an EU Social Partners consultation on working conditions for platform workers. As Max Uebe from the European Commission’s DG Employment explained during WEC-Europe’s event, actions at EU level could be considered to address classification of workers, health and safety of platform workers, access to social protection, algorithms management, promotion of social dialogue, cross-border fairness, and access to training.

While the EU’s approach to platform work is still in the making, the World Employment Confederation-Europe reminds that a comprehensive body of EU legislation is already applicable to online talent platforms, such as the Directive on transparent and predictable working conditions, the Council Recommendation on access to social protection for workers and self-employed and – for platforms offering agency work services – the EU Directive on temporary agency work. Recent case law at national level reclassifying platform labour suppliers as workers are adding further complexity to the regulatory landscape around platform work. Some clarity is certainly needed to embrace the full potential of platform work and provide the flexibility that both workers and companies look for.

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