The leftist Foundation for European Progressive Studies, in collaboration with other institutions, has published a remarkable study called ‘Work in the European Gig-Economy’. Its authors include British Professor Ursula Hews, who recently had the opportunity to present her research findings to a panel of the European Parliament. The project was co-financed by the German trade unions Verdi and IG Metall.
The report focuses on the extent of crowd work, working conditions, incomes, employment status and the motivation for workers to work in this segment of the labour market. Although the authors acknowledge that the research approach amounts to an attempt to ‘nail jelly to the wall’, they make an attempt to provide estimates and projections based on their surveys. The volume of platform work that has been determined appears to be quite impressive, ranging between 9% in Germany and 22% in Italy. This differs noticeably from the usual estimates of one to five percent of the working population.
However, the authors referred to all people who had practiced gig work at some point in the past. Naturally, this figure deviates from the number of those who currently or over the course of a calendar year perform a similar activity. Noteworthy are the estimates of the percentage of people who earned, at least temporarily, more than half of their total income through platform work. This is estimated at almost 1.5 million people in Germany.
How should the social state deal with new forms of gig work? The scientific and socio-political discussion calls in part for the creation of a new status or new types of employment - somewhere between self-employed and dependent employees. In some cases, special rules should be created that specifically meet the distinct requirements of platform work. The authors of the study rarely go against this approach. The risk is too great that new business models will see a reduction in social protection. Instead, the study recommends clarifying and, if necessary, updating the concept of self-employment (in contrast to dependent employment), especially with regard to the subordination relationship between employer and employee. There should only be special rules for those who are ‘truly’ self-employed. However, if in doubt, an employment relationship should be assumed.
Regardless of the status of the work, the statutory minimum wage should be guaranteed. A reform of social security is only required in terms of unemployment insurance. The distinction between ‘employed’ and ‘unemployed’ no longer makes sense in its previous form.