In a major victory for European workers that will hopefully have global implications, a European Union directive announced December 9 "includes a presumption that gig workers will be treated as employees."
According to the International Transport Workers' Federation more "than five million workers, including ride-hail drivers and food delivery riders, could see a big step forward in standards of pay and conditions as the EU introduces rules to stop their misclassification as independent contractors."
The general objective of the proposed Directive is to improve the working conditions and social rights of people working through platforms, including with the view to support the conditions for the sustainable growth of digital labour platforms in the European Union.
The specific objectives through which the general objective will be addressed are:
(1) to ensure that people working through platforms have – or can obtain – the correct employment status in light of their actual relationship with the digital labour platform and gain access to the applicable labour and social protection rights;
(2) to ensure fairness, transparency and accountability in algorithmic management in the platform work context; and
(3) to enhance transparency, traceability and awareness of developments in platform work and improve enforcement of the applicable rules for all people working through platforms, including those operating across borders.
European Trade Union Confederation Confederal Secretary Ludovic Voet responded to the new directive by saying:
For too long platform companies have made huge profits by dodging their most basic obligations as employers at the expense of workers, responsible employers and underfunded public services. The free ride for Uber, Deliveroo and Amazon and their cronies is finally coming to an end.
The proposed directive simply ensures workers will now access rights, like paid holiday and sick pay, which have been standard for other workers for the best part of a century. A secure contract with guaranteed wages will give workers far more freedom than fake self-employment, which gave workers no choice whether to wait unpaid between jobs or keep working when they were ill. The Directive can also ensure genuinely self-employed people are protected from subordination by platforms.
This directive provides long overdue certainty for workers who will no longer face having to take a multinational company to court in order to have something as basic as an employment contract. It also provides a level playing field for responsible businesses who faced unfair competition from platforms.
The trade union movement can be proud of having made strong demands over the past two years for a presumption of employment relationship and the reversal of the burden of the proof. After having been supported by the European Parliament, these are the options that were deemed to be the most effective by the impact assessment of the Directive.
However, it seems some platforms have been successful in their lobbying as the directive does still set burdensome criteria to activate the presumption of employment which could defeat the point of it. In practice, criteria might legitimise subordination of self-employed workers and this would defeat the purpose of the Directive. The upcoming negotiations should resolve this problem.
Platform companies should stop peddling myths about job losses in a desperate effort to save a broken business model. If they really care about their workers, they should get round the table with trade unions and engage in collective bargaining like all other responsible employers.”
In North America workers have been fighting against relentless attempts by app companies like Uber to change laws to permanently allow them to reclassify their workers as independent contractors to avoid various labour laws.
In Ontario this has taken the form of Uber's "Flexible+" idea with the company hoping for a legal framework for app and gig workers akin to what it accomplished in California with the victory of Proposition 22.