European Parliament agrees a way forward on platform workers’ rights

A European Union legislative proposal targeting the gig economy’s tendency to ride rough-shod over workers’ rights has inched a step closer today as the parliament agreed its negotiating position.

In the coming weeks (or, well, months) the onus will be on the EU Council to agree on its own position on a file that’s proved extremely divisive.

The Commission’s original proposal introduced a rebuttable presumption of employment for platform workers, with the aim of enforcing minimum standards in areas like pay, conditions and social protections. While another component aims to strengthen the rights of workers who are subject to algorithmic management.

The package has the potential to have far-reaching impacts for the millions of precarious workers laboring on digital platforms without being recognized as employees — despite their labor being tightly management by algorithms and monetized by platform giants.

MEPs voted 376 in favour of the mandate for starting talks with Member States on the platform worker directive, with 212 votes against (and 15 abstentions) — a ratio that underlines how much disagreement remains even in the parliament on how far the EU should be in regulating an employment-related issue.

Employment is an area where there can be considerable differences of national law — and differences of approach on the platform worker issue specifically. See, for instance, Spain’s ‘riders law’ reform¬†which seeks to force platforms to employ delivery couriers. Or, on the flip side, France’s long-running push to shield gig platforms from having to reclassify workers as employees (via Politico).

A pan-EU set of ‘minimum standards’ in this area therefore has to navigate a patchwork of national practices and preferences, vulnerable workers and massive lobbying operations by gig giants like Uber —¬†hoping to use the file as an opportunity to lower European standards for precarious workers.

The Commission only presented its proposal to flip the odds on tech-fuelled exploitation of workers back in December 2021 — after attempting (and failing) to get platforms and workers reps to hash out a way forward themselves — so progress has already been painstaking. And it’s still not clear when — or even if — the file will make it through as agreed legislation, or remain parked.

So far, the Council, the body that’s made up of representatives of EU Member States’ governments, has remained divided on how to tackle the gig economy employment classification issue — with some Member States in favor of strengthening protections for gig workers and others apparently keen to shield platforms from the expense of employing large numbers of gig workers.

The “trilogue” discussions, between the parliament, Council and Commission — to try to hash out a consensus on a final, ‘balanced’ text — can’t start until the Council adopts a general mandate for negotiations. So even with MEPs moving forward progress remains stalled.

Per Euractiv, MEPs pushed for the directive to go further than the Commission proposal — and the text agreed for their negotiating mandate removes a focus in the draft on certain criteria being met for the rebuttable presumption of employment to kick in in favor of centering the contractual relationship between platform and worker. A reworked set of criteria have been included but rather they’re there to inform platforms’ rebuttable proceedings.

The Parliament also backed having stronger transparency and information rules around how automated tools and algorithms are used for managing workers.

Member States, however, are likely to push back — and try to water down the proposed protections for gig workers. So where the file ends up remains to be seen. But given the level of opposition in the Parliament to a negotiating position which aims to improve on the Commission’s proposal for protecting platform workers, it might not bode well for a final text that’s robust enough to reform an exploitative business model which seeks scale at the expense of workers’ rights.