EU’s provisional deal on gig worker rights fails to get enough backing from Member States

Not so fast on that Christmas present for precarious gig workers in the EU: A political deal announced mid month, which aims to bolster platform workers rights across the European Union by establishing a legal presumption of employment, does not have the necessary qualified majority backing among Member States, it emerged today.

In an brief update to the European Council’s online press release, where it had trumpeted the earlier political deal on the file, the institution writes: “[O]n 22 December 2023 the Spanish presidency concluded that the necessary majority on the provisional agreement among member states’ representatives (Coreper) could not be reached. The Belgian presidency will resume negotiations with the European Parliament in order to reach an agreement on the final shape of the directive.”

The development was picked up earlier by Bloomberg and Euractiv — which reported that the deal failed to secure a qualified majority in a Coreper held Friday.

“No formal vote was even held on the text, as it became clear there would be no majority,” said Euractive, citing information it obtained that the Baltics, Czech Republic, France, Hungary and Italy “formally said no to a deal they believed was too far gone from the Council’s version of the directive”.

France has been fingered as leading resistance to the agreement that was announced by exhausted parliamentary negotiators mid month, with the parliament’s co-rappoteur on the file blaming opposition to the deal on French president Emmanuel Macron earlier this month.

Depending on changes demanded by blocking Member States, the file could be forced back into the EU’s three-way lawmaking negotiation process, known as trilogues, where co-legislators in the European Parliament, Council and the Commission would have to try, once again, to find a compromise they can all agree on.

However if trilogues have to be reopened in January they would come with the added complication of a hard deadline, as European elections are looming.

A failure to find a way forward on the file in a matter of months would then leave the gig worker labor reform at the mercy of reconfigured political priorities under a new European Commission and parliament — which may be even more right leaning than the current formation.

In a thread posted on X, Joaquín Pérez Rey, labor minister in the Spanish government — which has held the rotating European Council presidency for the last six months; and had announced reaching a deal on the platform worker file on December 13 — blamed conservative and liberal governments for blocking the reform.

“The Spanish Presidency of the Council had reached an agreement that had the support of all political groups in [the European] Parliament except the Far Right,” he also wrote [translated from Spanish using AI]. “This directive was inspired by the one known as the Rider Law that came into force in Spain on August 12, 2021.”

“This pioneering regulation at the international level, which positioned the EU as the leader of a fair digital transition, will have to continue being debated in the next Belgian Presidency, based on the agreement reached by the Spanish Presidency with the European Parliament,” he added. “Spain and the Ministry of Labor and Social Economy will continue to defend an ambitious Directive that truly improves the situation of workers on digital platforms.”

At their press conference earlier this month to announce the provisional deal on the file, parliamentary negotiators had said the presumption of an employment relationship between a gig worker and a platform would be triggered when two out of a list of five “indicators of control or direction are present”. Although they declined to give details of what these criteria would be.

Opposition to the agreement may center on this element of the reform, as reports have suggested blocking Member States are pushing for a higher threshold before the presumption of employments kicks in.

Asked about this, a spokeswoman for the Council told TechCrunch: “I confirm that the disagreement centers on the issue of legal presumption.”

The Council’s position, reached back in June, required at least three of the seven criteria set out in the directive needed to be met for the employment presumption to be triggered. The (now failed) provisional deal had lowered the threshold to two out of five. But the agreement announced earlier this month had also allowed for Member States to expand to the list of criteria — so the blocker looks to be having just two criteria trigger the employment presumption, rather than three.

Parliamentarians who trumpeted the deal reached earlier this month had dubbed it “historic” and “ambitious”, suggesting it would “move the burden of proof” for precarious gig workers and stop them being “falsely deemed to be self employed” by putting the onus on platforms to demonstrate an employee really is self employed.