Harmonising flexibility, employment standards and employee protection.

SW – 01/2021

The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) highlights in its “New forms of employment 2020 update” study various atypical forms of employment, such as ICT-based mobile working or platform working. It studies the policy frameworks and incidences in the EU member states, Norway and the UK for each of these "new" forms of employment and it also identifies the opportunities and risks involved. It also ties in with its 2015 report "New forms of employment", in which it highlighted new trends in the European labour market.

Distribution and influencing factors

According to the study, permanent full-time standard employment is still predominant in Europe, but European labour markets are becoming increasingly characterised by a variety of different forms of employment. Further growth in the new forms of employment is now expected due to the dual transition towards a digital society and a climate-neutral economy. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is also influencing the development of new forms of employment. The example of ICT-based mobile working can be used to track these various trends, such as the restriction of mobility due to the pandemic, the "new normal", leading to switching between working from home and at the employer's premises, increasing digitalisation and climate change considerations as well as societal developments and preferences, e.g. with regard to the work/life balance.

Missing information

According to Eurofound, there is still a lack of clarity in Europe regarding the concepts for the new forms of employment. Available data and research results are still scarce and discussions about the opportunities and risks involved from the employers' point of view are rare. Most research and policy debates have focused on the labour market and working conditions and on the issues related to the workplace quality for employees. Information about the impact of atypical forms of employment on social security systems, etc., is also scarce.

Despite the intensive discussions covering the future of work at EU and national levels held in recent years, there is still a lack of formal definitions and clarity in Europe regarding the concepts of these forms of employment as well as the failure to create a regulatory framework. However, a better understanding of the respective characteristics and developments is now more important for sound policy making than it was a few years ago.

Need for flexibility

Common to all new forms of employment is the need for flexibility on the part of employers or customers, the employees or even both sides. However, the different forms are not equally advantageous for both sides. ICT-based mobile working, employee- and job-sharing are seen by the researchers as having the greatest potential for a mutually beneficial outcome, as in these forms flexibility would be accompanied by a good level of employee protection in terms of working conditions, representation and social protection. In contrast, the conditions, e.g. for platform and casual workers, are worse when compared to standard employment.


Eurofound recommends that policy makers focus on harmonising flexibility whilst maintaining employment standards and employee protection. This will need differentiated and customised interventions that take into account the specific opportunities and challenges involved in each form of employment. Often, these would only be considered as an aggregate. Nevertheless, such a uniform approach would be ineffective due to the diversity of new forms of employment.

In this respect, the legislative act announced by the EC in its 2021 work programme, which aims to contribute to the improvement of working conditions and adequate social protection for platform workers, should be interesting. With regard to forms of employment with especially dynamic development, such as platform working, Eurofound does not consider legislative initiatives alone to be effective and proposes supplementing them with measures that could have a more rapid impact, such as initiatives by the social partners.