EU Lawmakers Reach Agreement to Enhance Protections for Gig Workers

Some two years of talking about gig worker rights later and European Union lawmakers have finally reached a deal on the final shape of the Platform Worker Directive. The development could deliver a significant boost for millions of gig workers laboring on digital platforms without being afforded workers rights. There were also divisions between Member States over how much worker protection vs platform shielding they were prepared to commit to. Rappoteur and MEP Elisabetta Gualmini trumpeted the deal as “historic”, claiming the directive would advance workers rights for millions of gig workers across Europe. And I am really incredibly happy that we are now managing to provide protection [for gig workers].

After years of discussions and debate, there is finally a breakthrough in negotiations between European Union lawmakers. A deal has been reached on the long-awaited Platform Worker Directive, which aims to protect the rights of gig workers in the EU. It is a significant step towards providing much-needed labor and social rights protections for the estimated 5.5 million gig workers who are currently classified as self-employed, also known as “bogus self-employment”. Many of these workers have been excluded from important rights and benefits, but this new directive could bring about much-needed change.

The initial proposal for this reform was presented by the Commission in December 2021, with the goal of redefining labor laws to better safeguard the rights of platform workers. It sought to establish a presumption of employment for these workers in an effort to combat exploitation in the gig economy. However, the proposal faced challenges and resistance from powerful tech companies like Uber, who lobbied for gig workers to be exempt from Europe’s employment protections.

There were also disagreements among Member States on the level of protection that should be given to workers versus shielding the platforms. But after a lengthy final trilogue lasting over 12 hours, a provisional agreement has been reached.

In a press conference announcing the deal, Rapporteur and MEP Elisabetta Gualmini hailed it as “historic” and a significant step towards advancing workers’ rights for millions of gig workers across Europe. She emphasized the importance of this agreement in providing a framework for social rights and protections for millions of precarious workers in the region.

“It is an historic deal because, basically for the first time, we build up a framework of social rights for millions of workers in Europe who are among the most precarious. This is the first act that deals with the labour market of the future.”

The provisional agreement includes a presumption of an employment relationship between a gig worker and a platform, triggered when two out of five “indicators of control or direction” are present. This list can be expanded by Member States and can be activated by the worker, their representatives, or competent authorities. However, the platform can rebut this presumption by proving that the contractual relationship is not an employment one.

Transparency measures have also been included in the agreement, requiring platforms to provide information to workers and their representatives on how the algorithms that manage them work and how their behaviors impact automated decisions.

This provision is crucial, as although the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) in the EU already provides some rights to data subjects regarding automated decision-making, gig workers have faced challenges in accessing meaningful insights into the algorithms used by platforms to manage and even terminate their employment. With this new directive in place, it is hoped that platforms will be obligated to provide workers with their data more readily.

The agreement also prohibits platforms from making important decisions, such as dismissals or suspensions, without human oversight. This right to human review is also included in the GDPR, but gig workers have had to resort to legal action to challenge “robo-firings”. With this ban in place, platforms will be forced to reform their practices.

According to the parliament, the agreed text also ensures that there is “more human oversight on the decisions of systems that directly affect the persons performing platform work” and obliges platforms to assess the impact of automated decisions on working conditions, health, safety, and fundamental rights. This means that conducting data protection impact assessments will be a mandatory requirement for compliance with the new law.

Another significant prohibition included in the agreement is a ban on platforms processing certain types of personal data, such as personal beliefs and private exchanges, without worker consent, or when the worker is not on the job. This further strengthens data protection rights for platform workers.

During the press conference, Gualmini also mentioned that the portion of the agreed text on consent to data protection goes “beyond the limits of the GDPR”, highlighting its innovative nature.

Other provisions in the provisional agreement include platforms being required to share information on self-employed workers with national authorities and trade unions representing these workers. Measures have also been put in place to prevent platforms from circumventing the rules by using intermediaries, a practice that has become more prevalent in Spain since its labor reform in 2021 aimed at compelling platforms to hire delivery workers.

Although certain details of the agreement are still unknown, and a consolidated text is yet to emerge, Dragoş Pîslaru, chair of the Employment and Social Affairs committee, stated that they could not disclose the exact details of the provisions agreed upon in last night’s negotiations. It is still unclear how easy it will be for gig workers to trigger a reclassification of their employment status.

As this is a directive and not a regulation, there may also be some variation in its implementation across Member States. However, the ultimate goal is to establish a minimum standard and allow countries to pass their own laws that further protect workers’ rights.

But today marks a significant step in the right direction, as the political deal signifies that progress has been made in protecting the rights of gig workers. In conclusion, Gualmini reiterated the importance of this milestone agreement in providing much-needed support and protection for these workers in this ever-changing labor market.

“This really is a historic agreement. I doubted that we’d be able to get to such a good compromise. Because we now have the possibility to look at what’s happening in this labour market, move the burden of proof, ensure that we don’t have these people being falsely deemed to be self-employed, and not leaving it up to those people to prove that they are not self-employed, but, rather, it being the platform that is responsible for demonstrating that that employee really is self-employed.

“And so this is a real improvement for the social rights and labor rights of millions of workers. This is the kind of step that we’ve never seen before in Europe. Looking at the algorithms, improving transparency. Our text is incredibly ambitious. And I am really incredibly happy that we are now managing to provide protection for gig workers. Now, of course, we want to have competition – fair competition – between multinationals, but we also want to protect workers who, in this labour market, should have the support that they deserve and should not be abused by these companies, as often was the case in the past.”

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Zara Khan

Zara Khan is a seasoned investigative journalist with a focus on social justice issues. She has won numerous awards for her groundbreaking reporting and has a reputation for fearlessly exposing wrongdoing.

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