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Machines as managers – data use raises questions

It is not only the social security of platform workers that is being discussed in the Member States and Europe. The digital transformation has also created new opportunities for algorithmic management. However, in addition to the potential for innovation, this comes with issues of surveillance, data use, equality, and discrimination against platform workers. Thus, a new regulatory need has arisen for algorithmic management, a form of human resource management that relies on computer systems. This not only allows monitoring of the workflows of platform workers. The data collected by the computer systems can also be analysed and used to assess their productivity. However, this must not be at the expense of the health and safety of platform workers, especially since both the database and the underlying algorithms may be subject to errors.

The proposed directive, therefore, provides for regulations to ensure that no final decision is made by automated systems. What is essential is the transparent, non-dis­criminatory, trustworthy and ethical use of algorithms towards all platform workers, regardless of their employment status. Thus, the proposed directive follows the objective set out in the Communication on the Digital Compass 2030 to lay down ethical principles for human-centric algorithms.1

This includes increased transparency in their use to monitor work performance as this has a direct impact on working conditions and occupational health and safety. Also, the processing of personal data, such as on the health of the platform worker, is restricted. Digital labour platforms should assess risks of automated monitoring and decision-making systems for the safety and health of platform workers and introduce appropriate prevention and protection measures. Another key aspect is the right to challenge automated decisions.

Most comments support the regulatory proposals on data use and algorithmic management. According to the submitted draft report of the European Parliament, moreover, all elements of the algorithm for evaluating the performance of platform workers are to be subject to collective bargaining. A clause for awarding subcontracts was also added to prevent circumvention of the directive.

The transparent, non-discriminatory, trustworthy and ethically justifiable use of algorithms vis-à-vis all platform workers is also a core objective of the German Social Insurance. Therefore, the proposed information requirement of the digital labour platform is supported. This applies, because of the direct impact on working conditions and health and safety at the workplace, in particular to the information requirements on automatic systems that are used to monitoring of work performance and other decisions. Overall, in line with the Digital Strategy and the European Pillar of Social Rights, these regulations create an appropriate framework for innovation while maintaining a healthy, safe and suitable working environment and data protection, as set out in Principle Ten of the European Pillar of Social Rights.