Jobs and the Future of Work

Can new EU rules make gig work fairer?

The European Union has approved draft labour rules aimed at recognizing gig workers as employees.

The European Union has approved draft labour rules aimed at recognizing gig workers as employees. Image: Unsplash/Joshua Lawrence

Joanna Gill
Europe Correspondent, Thomson Reuters Foundation
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  • The European Union (EU) has approved draft labour rules to recognize the employee rights of gig workers, Context reports.
  • The proposals acknowledge the often informal nature of roles undertaken by gig workers on digital platforms, from food delivery drivers to microworkers.
  • In future, the onus will be on digital platforms to show that workers hired through them are not employees.
  • The EU aims to have the rules in place by 2025, when it estimates there will be 43 million gig workers in the bloc.

Millions of European gig workers could be recognised as employees with rights to pensions, paid leave and workplace accident insurance under draft labour rules approved by European Union lawmakers this week.

The proposals aim to stamp out what EU lawmakers describe as "bogus self-employment" among gig workers using digital platforms, from food delivery couriers and drivers for ride-hailing apps through to domestic workers and microworkers who complete small tasks such as content moderation online.

The draft rules will go to further negotiations between MEPs and representatives from the governments of all EU states, who must hammer out a compromise on the final text.

Once all sides agree, they will pass a directive which means the rules must be written into the national law of each member state.

The EU wants to see the new rules in place by 2025, at which point it estimates the bloc will have 43 million gig workers.

The planned legislation comes as national courts across the EU face a growing number of cases seeking to boost gig workers' labour rights.

While trade unions and gig workers organisations have welcomed the proposals, some digital platforms have been critical, saying that the rules will undermine rights to flexible work.

What are the new rules for gig work, and who will be affected?

The draft rules would put the onus on digital platforms to show that workers hired through them are not employees.

The presumption of employment would be tested by looking at whether platforms control how work is carried out, such as by setting prices or requiring workers to wear uniforms.

More than 5 million of the EU's 28 million digital platform-based workers may be wrongly classified as self-employed, according to the European Commission.

The proposals also seek to safeguard against abuses resulting from workplace automation, such as algorithms deciding working times, assigning clients and evaluating performance.

Under the draft rules, automated decisions that affect working conditions must have some human oversight, and workers would have access to the information driving those decisions.

Gig worker representatives at KoeriersCollectief Brussels, a group which represents delivery workers, welcomed the proposals, though they fear they may be watered down during negotiations with member states.

"This system ... pushes (us) to always go faster, to always make more orders just to be paid a living wage," Camille Peeters, a delivery rider from the collective told Context.

"What the draft rules can change is to create a system that protects the lives of delivery people," he added.

How does this compare to gig work legislation elsewhere?

Across the globe, digital platforms are facing legal and legislative scrutiny.

Within the EU, a patchwork of national laws has led to gig workers taking digital platforms to court to establish their rights as employees, with sometimes contradictory outcomes.

In January, a French court ordered Uber to pay around 17 million euros ($18.43 million) in damages and lost salaries to a group of drivers who successfully argued they were employees, while in Belgium a court sided with Uber in a dispute over a driver's employment status late last year.

In the United States, the Department of Labor is seeking to turn some independent contractors into employees, giving them a minimum wage, overtime pay and legal protections.

Singapore is set to extend workplace injury insurance and pension coverage to ride-hailing and food delivery workers by 2024, although they will not be considered employees entitled to social benefits like paid leave.

It is among the first Asian nations to provide legal protections for people working in the gig economy.

Last year, India said a social security law would be extended to gig workers, but it is yet to be implemented, while Chinese regulators have ordered online platforms to ensure workers earn above the minimum wage and have insurance.

What does this mean for the gig work economy?

Platform work can boost productivity, labour flexibility and create access to jobs for marginalised groups, but lacks social protections, the United Nations' International Labour Organization says.

Some European trade unions believe the proposed rules could help to change this.

"Digital labour platforms have based their business model on creating a race to bottom on rights," said seven major union bodies including the European

Trade Union Confederation in a joint letter backing the proposed new EU laws in October. https://www.etuc.org/en/document/joint-letter-effective-directive-improving-conditions-platform-work

But companies like Uber and Deliveroo have said the new rules could lead to job losses, reduce rights to flexible working, and lead to more litigation over employment status.

Delivery Platforms Europe, a lobby group that represents seven major courier and food delivery firms, rejected the draft text as ignoring "millions of people who actively choose independent work".

"It would undermine legal self-employment, as well as decades of precedence in national employment law, and would only result in increased legal uncertainty," the group said in emailed comments.

Italian MEP Elisabetta Gualmini said in the European Parliament on Thursday it was "simply not true" that the incoming rules would end flexible working arrangements for self-employed people.

The EU's draft rules are a "nice first serve" to help reset the imbalance of power between platforms and workers, said Klaus Heeger, secretary general of the European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions.

Companies may try to "game the legislation" by making sure workers do not meet the criteria to be considered employees, said Alessio Bertolini, a platform work researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute for the project FairWork.

It is hard to say whether the EU's new rules will be the "holy grail compromise" between employment rights and economic growth, he added.

"But it's an improvement."

(Reporting by Joanna Gill; Editing by Sonia Elks.)

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