The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has published a report dealing with not only legislative and political trends in connection with platform work in the EU, but also their impact on occupational safety and health.
The report’s authors conclude that platform workers exhibit many similarities with both occasional and subcontracted workers, and are exposed to the same risks in terms of occupational safety and health. According to the report, this is amplified by inadequacies in terms of both awareness of prevention issues and access to prevention training. In particular, prevention is generally more effective in companies with a larger number of workers, whereas platform workers are often young people with limited exposure to and understanding of prevention.
Another risk to platform workers highlighted by the report is the tendency to work at excessive speed and without breaks, which is to be seen within the context of the competitive organisation of platform work and the use of corresponding evaluation mechanisms. What is more, platform work represents a precarious form of employment that hinders the organisation of workers into works councils – inevitably making it more difficult for workers to protect their interests and enforce their rights.
What is being done at national level?
The overview provided in the report shows member states to have implemented a variety of different measures. Treated as normal employees in some countries, in other cases platform workers are seen as freelancers or given a status which falls between that of the other two groups. This has an impact on their social rights, which vary depending on their respective status. As a result, some countries no longer determine workers’ rights on the basis of their employment status, but instead solely on the basis of whether or not they have carried out a particular type of work.
Proposals at European level
The report also deals with developments at European level. The European Commission is currently preparing two legislative initiatives designed to strengthen the rights of platform workers, with implementation timetabled for 2018. One of the initiatives focuses on access to social protection, and aims to ensure that the same level of social protection is offered regardless of a worker’s employment status. It was with this in mind that the European Commission initiated both the second phase of consultation with social partners and a wide-ranging survey of civil society on November 20th 2017. The German Social Insurance will contribute to the consultation process in the form of an expert statement on the issues involved. The other initiative concerns the Written Statement Directive, which pursues the twin objectives of strengthening workers’ rights to information on their employment relationship and obliging companies to inform all workers of their rights.
The issue of platform work is also being studied by the European Parliament, which has championed both fair working conditions and an adequate level of legal and social protection. In addition, the Parliament has underlined that the right to healthy, safe working conditions also extends to protection from the risk of accidents, adherence to maximum working hours and the honouring of holiday entitlement.
The topic of platform work was also a key topic at a conference held by the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs and the Senior Labour Inspectors’ Committee (SLIC) in Tallinn on November 8th 2017, with the participants reaching a number of conclusions: Although flexible working conditions can lead to an enhanced work-life balance and in turn an improvement in worker well-being, the trend also carries a number of risks and faces social insurance providers with an entirely new set of challenges. Digitalisation is changing the world of work, with young people particularly keen to opt for flexible working arrangements. They no longer wish to be bound to prescribed working hours and a specific workplace, and would prefer to choose both on a flexible basis. In many cases, flexible options nevertheless demand “constant” worker availability and can lead to an increase in stress or even burnout. This can be countered if workers assume more responsibility for their own well-being and regulations governing occupational safety and health are adapted to reflect changes in working practices.