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Digital platform work: cities and regions call for stricter criteria for verifying employment status
EU cities and regions call on the European Commission to strengthen the criteria for defining the employment status of digital platform workers in order to improve their working conditions. In an opinion drafted by Yonnec Polet (BE/PES), First Deputy Mayor of Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, the European Committee of the Regions also voices its concern about the use of algorithms and stresses that workers must always have the right to a decision taken by a human manager or supervisor. The opinion was adopted by the plenary session on 29 June.
Of the more than 28 million people in Europe working through digital platforms, many are currently classified as self-employed. The Committee therefore welcomes the rebuttable presumption of employment relationship and the reversal of the burden of proof provided for in the proposal for a directive, presented by the European Commission in December 2021. Nevertheless, it considers that the criteria indicating that a digital labour platform controls the performance of work remain too vague, leading to many workers still falling outside the definition of an employee and not being able to benefit from the labour rights and social benefits to which they are entitled.
According to rapporteur Yonnec Polet, "digital platform companies deliberately use the legal uncertainty in their favour. Thanks to the new criteria for triggering the presumption of employer, millions of platform workers will see their situation improve as their employment status changes to employees, giving them access to the same social rights as other workers. Moreover, we must be vigilant with regard to the purely algorithmic management of human resources. Platform workers have the right to a human interlocutor with regard to important decisions affecting their status and working conditions.”
The European Parliament's rapporteur Elisabetta Gualmini (IT/S&D), who intervened at the plenary session, said: " Our shared goal is to ensure that the directive presented by the European Commission on platform workers is as effective as possible in achieving three main goals. Firstly, it is important to properly classify people performing platform work among two main categories: subordinate employment relationships and true self-employment. Ending false self-employment also helps ensure fair competition between traditional businesses and platforms, guaranteeing a homogenous playing field for all employers. Thirdly, the management of algorithms needs to be fair and transparent."
As pointed out in the Committee’s opinion, digital labour platforms act like employers when they control certain aspects of the performance of work and a relationship of subordination is established. Of the criteria proposed by the Commission, only one — instead of two — should therefore be sufficient to trigger the presumption of an employer-employee relationship. In addition, the list should be supplemented by other criteria which take into account actions to determine or limit the price of a service, to make the award of future work offers conditional on acceptance of tasks or the worker’s availability, or to limit the capacity of a worker to enter into a commercial relationship with his or her client. There should also be room for a stricter interpretation by the competent authorities at national level.
Secondly, digital labour platforms should be required to disclose the detailed functioning of their automated monitoring and decision-making systems, as well as algorithms related to working conditions. The Committee stresses that platform workers must always have the right to a decision taken by a human manager or supervisor when it comes to the suspension or termination of the contract, the remuneration of work, the contractual status of the worker or other measures with similar effects. It is also necessary to ensure the portability of workers’ data for professional development purposes, while guaranteeing their right to be forgotten and to rectification.
The opinion of Mr Polet also calls for guidance for digital labour platforms and persons performing platform work to ensure the correct identification of the sector of activity to which they are linked, in order to enable the full implementation of applicable legislation and collective agreements in this sector. In this process, he recalled the crucial role of trade unions in defending workers’ rights. It is also essential to ensure that the law enforcement authorities are adequately staffed and trained.
The rapporteur concludes that cities and regions have a role to play in protecting digital platform workers. “It is the sub-national authorities that are responsible for implementing labour legislation and determining the status of workers in many Member States. Not only must local and regional authorities be involved in improving working conditions through a platform, but they also need support and training to strengthen their skills in this area" , Mr Polet stresses.
The growing digital divide between urban and rural areas is one of the major challenges faced by citizens and businesses in Europe.
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