Cecop calls for ‘ambitious’ European Commission platform work directive

The European Parliament’s Employment Committee is due to vote on the Commission’s directive on improving working conditions in platform work

The European confederation of industrial and service cooperatives (Cecop) has joined a call demanding changes to the European Commission’s directive on improving working conditions in platform work, set for debate by the European Parliament’s Employment Committee.

In an open letter to European institutions Cecop, along with the European Trade Union Confederation, the European Youth Forum, and Solidar (a European and worldwide network of civil society organisations), warns that digitisation “should always provide social improvements, respect working conditions, and be developed in co-operation with workers and trade unions”.

The letter points out that digital labour platforms are more than just a digital marketplaces that facilitate the offer and demand between an undertaking and a client, adding that many exert the prerogatives of employers by relying on rating systems and performing algorithm management, among other forms of control.

Related: Policy paper sets out a path forward for platform co-ops

Furthermore, adds the letter: “This group of digital labour platforms have based their business model on creating  a race to bottom on rights through enhancing competition among workers, putting the risks of the activity on their shoulders, and operating in a legislative vacuum to maximise the benefits.”

Warning that “a business is only sustainable if labour rights are respected”, the letter argues that “rules are needed to ensure that those digital labour platforms which do not operate with genuine self-employed workers do not evade their responsibility through imposing bogus self-employment”.

The letter also explains that malpractices within the platform economy “erode the working conditions and quality of life of workers but also affect negatively traditional industry and public revenues”.

Tht the platform economy is not a separate silo of the economy, the letter adds, so a regulatory instrument at EU level should set minimum standards of protection to safeguard workers’ rights. Platform businesses should abide to the existing sectoral rules respected by the majority of companies, argues the letter.

The signatories also draw the attention to the issues they believe the current directive fails to address, such as the activation of the presumption of employment dependent on two out of five criteria of subordination being met. The letter calls for a true presumption and placing the burden of proof on the platform rather than workers or administrative or judicial authorities.

“Open-ended criteria should therefore help rebut the presumption, not activate it,” it argues. “This will grant employees with an employment contract and protect the self-employed from the subordination of platforms, such as it is the case in most of traditional companies.”

Another issue identified is the limitation of the presumption of employment relationship to workers bringing their cases to the relevant administrative or judicial body. The letter claims this would result in situations in which two or more workers are doing the same work for the same digital labour platform would enjoy different employment statutes. 

Lastly, the letter argues that platform workers must have access to social protection, as acknowledged in the European Pillar of Social Rights. It adds that proposed directive should prevent digital work platforms from developing their own unilateral private protection schemes.

“Such private and non-transferable schemes can create a lock-in effect by providing for social dependence on the digital work platform and therefore produce a dumping with traditional companies,” it says.

“In this respect, the reference in the recitals of the directive to the voluntary decision to pay for ‘social protection, accident insurance or other forms of insurance, training measures or similar benefits to self-employed persons working through that platform (…) should not be regarded as determining elements indicating the existence of an employment relationship’ is very dangerous and allows the creation of a third category of workers, which the directive itself is against.

“The law must clearly state the opposite: such behaviour on the part of digital work platforms must be an indication of subordination.”

The signatories also express reservations with regards to the methodology used for the Commission’s impact assessment and warns that “the number of bogus self-employed workers in digital labour platforms exceeds extensively the estimate of 5.51 million.” The Commission estimates that the number of platform workers will grow to 42.7 million in the EU-27 by 2030.

“Hoping that you share our ambition for an economy that works for people and supports European companies, we urge you to take the steps that will make the current proposal stronger,” says the letter.