Members of parliament (MEPs) call for collective bargaining rights for self-employed workers

LB – 04/2022

At the end of March, the EU Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) held a joint debate with Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission. In the debate, the committee members advocated for collective bargaining rights for self-employed workers – not only in the area of platform work.

Social protection for the self-employed is partly inadequate

As early as 2017, the European Commission had launched an initiative on Access to social protection also for the self-employed as part of the implementation of the "European Pillar of Social Rights". The reason for this, on the one hand, was the massive change in the world of work, especially in the wake of digitalisation, which has created a broad spectrum of new forms of employment, thus also opening questions of adjustment for the social security systems. On the other hand, a Study of the European Commission showed that access to social protection in the European Union is inadequate in many places, especially for the self-employed and atypical workers.

Violation of competition law?

Since then, there has been much discussion about the different facets of the issue. One immanent conflict is that, among other things, the enforcement of social rights of the self-employed could be strengthened by collective agreements for this group of workers. In contrast to this, the fundamental classification of self-employed workers as "enterprises" for which collective associations and agreements, as opposed to corresponding collective agreements between employees and employers and employers would violate European competition law.

Creating clarity and legal certainty

At the end of 2021, the European Commission had presented a package of measures focusing primarily on platform work and including a proposal for a directive to improve working conditions in platform work. The package of measures also includes draft guidelines on collective agreements on the working conditions of solo self-employed workers.

At the same time as the publication, a Consultation process was initiated for this – Vestager, the then Executive Vice-President emphasised at that time: "Even outside the platform economy, it is difficult for some solo self-employed workers to have a say in their working conditions. We are now consulting on draft guidelines to provide legal certainty and clarify in the cases, where competition law does not prevent these people's efforts to achieve a better outcome through collective bargaining."The European Representation of the German Social Insurance had also submitted a Statement.

Improve social protection, not only for self-employed platform workers

MEPs now took the opportunity to get to know about the current status of the guidelines for collective bargaining for the self-employed and to discuss them. In view of frequent unequal power relations to the advantage of companies, they advocated for better protection of the rights of solo self-employed workers – not only on platforms but also those working offline – to improve their pay and working conditions.

False incentives for (ostensible‑) self-employment must also be removed. Any new provisions would have to provide for bargaining rights for self-employed workers in a legally clear manner. At the same time, it was stressed that this should not diminish existing collective bargaining rules or the competences of the social partners.

Collective bargaining at the national level

Vestager assured MEPs that the aim of the guidelines was to clarify when EU competition law does not apply to self-employed workers. This allows them to fight for better working conditions without worrying. She also pointed out that collective bargaining powers and rules were set at the national level, not by the EU.

The guidelines are to be adopted by the end of 2022. They are binding on the European Commission regarding its subsequent interpretation and enforcement of the EU competition rules.