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.