Gig economy workers need the EU to end modern digital slavery

It’s so simple – with a single click on your smartphone, you can order food delivered to your door, a car to get around or a cleaner to tidy up your home. During the pandemic, we got even more accustomed to these beautiful conveniences of modern life. But how do they affect the lives of the people behind the app, who provide us with these valuable services?

Take the Uber driver who has no customers and gets stuck with fuel and car insurance bills.

Or the Deliveroo driver who cannot work after a bicycle accident delivering food and does not receive sick pay. Or the harassed Helpling cleaner who doesn’t know where to turn for help.

The apps carefully hide the real story of the workers, too often deprived of fair wages, deprived of social insurance, denied paid holidays and decent working conditions.

Compensation can be very low, precarious and unpredictable, especially when workers are paid by the task and not by the hour, when they have to endure long unpaid waiting times and bear the costs of working materials, as well as the platform fees.

The trick the platforms use to keep their costs low is to pretend these workers are self-employed.

With slogans like “be your own boss” or “total flexibility”, they mask the fact that bogus self-employment leaves these modern day workers in a very precarious situation.

It’s a business model that allows some of the wealthiest companies on the planet to outsource their business risks to workers and taxpayers. Because when things go wrong – the worker gets sick or has an accident – then the worker is left out in the rain and the company has to step in.

To make matters worse, companies offering their employees full social protection and a living wage simply cannot compete with the low prices of platforms engaged in social dumping.

We want to change the game of the concert company.

Not by taking away the pleasurable convenience that many depend on to continue our busy lives. And not because we are hostile to technological innovation and want to go back. On the contrary, the ability of platforms to match supply and demand in real time should also have useful applications for public services, for example in the homework sector for children.

But how we treat some of the most vulnerable people in today’s economy will shape the type of society we live in.

The digital revolution is disrupting our world. It is changing the way we work, produce, consume, love and live in ways not seen since the last industrial revolution. We are called upon to ensure that technological progress translates into social progress for all.

It cannot be workers who are paying the price for digital innovations by sacrificing their hard-earned rights on the altar of the odd-job economy, while some digital businesses are still getting richer.

In 2019, digital work platforms generated $ 52 billion [€44bn] at the World level. Just as we tamed the last industrial revolution, we again need to make sure we put people first – by passing laws to protect them.

This is why we are asking the European Commission to urgently propose legislation that will better protect platform workers.

Misclassified, fragmented

Currently, platform work is considered an atypical form of employment. As a result, platform workers are wrongly classified as self-employed and deprived of decent working conditions and social rights that are the norm for all other workers, such as minimum wage or paid vacation.

As national rules are fragmented and insufficient and platforms often operate across borders, targeted action at EU level is needed. Along with our efforts to hold digital businesses accountable under the Digital Services Act, we need EU legislation to protect platform workers.

Some of the workers on the platform are, of course, true self-employed, and their rights must be protected as well. Our goal is to improve the working conditions of all platform workers and to fight bogus self-employment.

The solution is actually quite simple: in principle, all workers on the platform should be considered employees.

It must be assumed that there is a working relationship with the platform, involving all social and workers’ rights. It should be up to the platforms to prove the contrary. If the platform companies do not agree, it is up to them to prove that no working relationship exists with the worker.

In short, it is about reversing the burden of proof.

In recent years, work on platforms has grown considerably. One in ten Europeans has already done platform work. If we do not intervene to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in today’s economy, we risk spreading precarious work to other sectors.

Better protecting platform employees is a crucial element in taming the digital revolution and ensuring that technological progress brings social progress for all.

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