How can co-ops help workers in the gig economy?

Co-ops are working with trade unions to provide alternative ownership models for online work platforms

Faced with continuing automation and digitisation, the world of work is experiencing drastic changes. Some studies predict 45%-60% of all workers in Europe could see themselves replaced by automation before 2030.

Liina Carr from European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) thinks co-ops and trade unions must work together to ensure these workers are protected. A keynote speaker at the CECOP 40 anniversary conference in Manchester, she pointed out that the European Union had been designed as a social market economy and therefore needs to protect all its workers.

Cecop is the European confederation of co-ops in industry and services, representing 50,000 enterprises which employ 1.3m workers.

As work in precarious situations continues to grow, ETUC is campaigning to ensure that the protections built in traditional forms of work are maintained within these new forms of work, particularly for atypical, digital, self-employed workers.

“It’s work employment, not entrepreneurship, a 16-year old delivering food to somebody else,” said Ms Carr. “Can he really say he is an entrepreneur – or a mother making extra money driving people, is she an entrepreneur?”

She said self-employed people in such jobs are often branded as entrepreneurs, but can’t  pay into the social protection system to guarantee they have pensions and healthcare coverage.

When it comes to platforms providing work, the main question is whether there is an imbalance of power between the providers of work and the platform.

“Very often they are doing traditional work but the job is organised in a non traditional way,” added Ms Carr. “They can be providing an age-old service in a new way.

With a newly elected European Parliament and a new Commission being appointed, ETUC will work with Cecop to ensure the social dimension is taken into account when it comes to the transition from the current economy to a greener one.

ETUC and Cecop are also collaborating to make sure the European Pillar of Social Rights is implemented.

“We had many successful legislative initiatives but it’s not over,” said Ms Carr. “We have to keep reminding politicians that typical workers have to have rights and the possibility to collectively bargain.

“From co-op point of view, owner workers co-ops should have benefits of collective agreements.”

Belgium-based platform co-op Smart enables workers, entrepreneurs and organisations to invoice, to work together with other professionals and to manage a budget on an occasional or a long-term basis. It includes 85,000 members across Europe, who join the mutual risk co-op to gain access to social benefits and co-working spaces. Freelancers become employees of and share resources like accountants and lawyers, but continue to work independently as artists, writers, and digital creatives.

An emerging trend, platform co-ops can also help to disrupt the disrupters. Some platform co-ops are already competing with well-known tech companies. Resonate, an ethical music-streaming platform co-op based in Berlin brings together 500 artists and 800 labels. Listeners can to play their favourite tracks on a pay as you go model and the money goes straight to the artists. By the ninth play the listener gets to download the track.

Similarly, in the Calder Valley, UK, the Equal Care Co-op has launched a share offer aiming to raise £300,000 and reshape the care system. The digital platform will be used to match those wanting care with local care and support workers and professionally trained volunteers.

Emma Adelaide Back, who is leading on setting up the co-op, says it uses the multi-stakeholder model because it fits with their approach, focusing on the relation bet the giver and received of care. The co-op is issuing the shares to raise funds to develop the platform software.

“It takes a movement to take on the tech giants”, said multimedia producer and board chair or Resonate, Terry Tyldesley, encouraging the movement to support platform co-ops.


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