Eurofound - Large gaps remain in the social protection of the self-employed

The distinction between self-employment and dependent employment is increasingly blurred.

VS – 02/2024

On 30 January, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) published the study "Self-employment in the EU: job quality and developments in social protection". The report points out the persistent major gaps in the social protection of the self-employed. Of the 28 million self-employed people in Europe, 16.8 million have no insurance cover in the event of unemployment. However, 5.3 million and 4.2 million self-employed people respectively are also not covered in the event of illness and in connection with accidents at work and occupational illnesses. Gaps in social protection exist primarily for the self-employed, whose employment situation is similar to that of people in dependent employment.

The distinction between self-employment and dependent employment is becoming blurred

Many self-employed people, especially those who are dependent on one or a limited number of clients and whose autonomy and ability to set prices is limited, find themselves in a situation similar to dependent employment. However, unlike the latter, they do not have adequate labour and social protection. A trend that is being reinforced by the surge in platform employment. In order to ensure the social security of these employees, the authors of the report believe it is necessary to agree on standardised criteria for determining employment status.

Temporary extension of social protection during the pandemic

The analyses of the EU agency Eurofound, which is responsible for conducting research into living and working conditions, reveal that social security systems are primarily geared towards dependent employees. In the self-employed group, on the contrary, there are major differences in access to social security and its scope. This became particularly clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. The self-employed were hit hardest by the loss of income. Over the course of the pandemic, some Member States have supported their incomes and expanded access to social protection with a variety of initiatives, most of which were of temporary nature. These efforts show that the Member States are aware of the gaps in social protection for the self-employed. According to the report’s authors, it is therefore important to utilise the knowledge and experience gained from the pandemic.

Protecting the self-employed is on the European agenda

Principle 12 of the European Pillar of Social Rights lays down the objective that dependent employees and self-employed persons working under comparable conditions are entitled to appropriate social protection regardless of the type and duration of their employment relationship. To close the gaps in this area, the Council of the European Union adopted a recommendation on access of dependent employees and the self-employed to social protection in 2019. In December 2021, the European Commission tabled a proposal for a directive to improve working conditions in platform work, which aims to clarify the employment status of platform workers and improve their labour and social protection. In the trialogue on 8 February, the negotiators from the European Parliament and the Council reached a provisional agreement on this, which must now be decided upon. In addition, the European Commission adopted guidelines on the application of EU competition law to collective agreements on the working conditions of the self-employed in September 2022.

Belgian Council Presidency strives to consolidate monitoring

The Belgian Council Presidency has made access to social protection a priority of its current Council Presidency and aims to continue the monitoring of progress in realising access to social protection provided for in the Council Recommendation. The monitoring framework shall be further developed and reflect actual access to social protection.

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