Social security for platform workers

VS – 11/2022

The European Parliament heard from Uber's former chief lobbyist Mark MacGann end of October. As early as summer, the British newspaper The Guardian, in cooperation with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, had analysed and published thousands of documents disclosed by him – the so-called Uber files. The Uber files suggest that the company has specifically courted top politicians in Europe to strengthen its market power between 2013 and 2017.

The workers' labour rights were deliberately disregarded. At EU level, for example, the Uber files have triggered an investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) against the former EU Vice-President of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes.

Hearing in view of proposed directive on platform work

New forms of employment on digital labour platforms have become increasingly important in recent years. Digital labour platforms are seen as an employment model with a lot of innovative power and job-creating potential. At the same time, this employment model raises new questions about labour and social protection, e.g. about the distinction between self-employment and dependent employment, and about the algorithmic management of platform workers' data. These aspects are also at the heart of the draft directive on improving working conditions in platform work presented by the European Commission on 9 December 2021.

During the discussion of the draft directive in the European Council and the European Parliament, the Uber files were published in July. In line with this, the European Parliament's lead Committee on Employment and Social Affairs heard the whistleblower and former chief lobbyist of Uber in October.

Whistleblower: platform workers must be classified as dependent employees

Speaking to Members of Parliaments, MacGann said Uber had misled the world about the benefits of the gig economy. In doing so, the company had made targeted efforts to ensure that Uber drivers were not classified as workers. Uber also paid researchers to distort findings to support Uber's position on the employment status of platform workers. In the hearing, MacGann called on the European Parliament to better protect Uber drivers and other platform workers. This is because there is a clear imbalance of power between the platform workers and the digital work platform.

The Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, Nicolas Schmit, highlighted the importance of MacGann's remarks and stressed the importance of the European Commission's proposal for a directive on platform work. In doing so, Schmit expressed the fear that the discussions in the Council could dilute the rebuttable presumption for determining employment status contained in the European Commission proposal. The aim of the proposed directive was not to prevent the new economic model of digital labour platforms. Instead, the social protection of workers should be guaranteed and at the same time the development of new technologies should be made possible.

Parliamentarians and the European Commissioner Schmit stress the importance of MacGann's remarks

In the hearing, the rapporteur Elisabetta Gualmini (S&D) said that the Uber files and MacGann's remarks underline the importance of the two central issues of her report: the fight against false self-employed platform workers and the opacity of the platform algorithms. Shadow rapporteur Dennis Radtke (EPP) thanked MacGann and criticised the disregard for workers by companies like Uber. Likewise, the shadow rapporteur Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová (Renew), called Uber's entrepreneurial behaviour, as evidenced by the Uber files, unacceptable.

This is how it continues

In recent weeks, the political groups in the European Parliament had moved towards each other on contentious issues concerning the status determination of the employment relationship of platform workers, although no compromise had yet been reached. Discussions also continue in the European Council. Czech's Council Presidency wants to present a compromise text to the European Council in December, but it is still unclear whether this will succeed.