Riders Law: Brussels will force the regularization of more than four million digital platform workers | Economy

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A delivery man at the Deliveroo office in Bordeaux (France).
A delivery man at the Deliveroo office in Bordeaux (France).GEORGES GOBET (Getty)

The precariousness of employment on digital platforms has led Brussels to try to regulate the sector. The European Commission has approved this Thursday a directive to set minimum working conditions throughout the Union, and it does so starting with the most controversial issue and the one that has caused the most clashes in the courts: Are those who work for digital platforms salaried or self-employed ? They are salaried, he says, if there is any kind of control by the company. This may mean the regularization of some 4.1 million false self-employed, according to the Community Executive. The norm follows in the wake of the Spanish distributors’ law, approved this year. Like this, part of the so-called technically presumption of employment, although it does not stop only in the sector of digital delivery platforms, but its objective is to reach all sectors.

The first objective is, of course, to clarify an aspect that has generated a large number of labor disputes and court crashes in recent years. According to the Commission, in recent times there have been more than 100 sentences that, “for the most part”, have found that the workers were false self-employed. For the Commissioner for Employment, Nicolas Schmidt, this is not because the platforms have tried to go beyond the norm, but rather that they have taken advantage of “the ambiguities” of the law.

The other outstanding element of the community directive, which is now beginning its journey in the European Parliament and in the Council, intends for States to establish in their legislation the obligation for platforms to inform workers – both salaried and self-employed – of the algorithms they use to monitor their performance and to ensure that ultimate oversight falls on a person and not on technology. There is a third point that is an important novelty: the obligation for these companies to declare the number of workers they have, under what contribution system and with what level of social protection.

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“Nobody wants to stop the growth of digital platforms,” ​​says Schmidt in a meeting with EL PAÍS and four other European media. “But it is necessary that these workers have social rights.” In the opinion of the Luxembourg socialist, “common minimums” are necessary. In addition to the social aspect – “you cannot provide a new service without social rights (minimum wage, protection …)” – he adds another aspect: unfair competition. “You cannot create a sector that competes, for example, with supermarkets [en el servicio de reparto] and those who work for him have no rights ”.

The daily picture of delivery men with a backpack on their back distributing food or doing orders is observed daily in the streets of Madrid, Paris, Brussels, London … They are the most iconic – and often precarious – image of the labor revolution that bring digital platforms. But they go beyond the food delivery or courier sector. They have come to language translation, refresher classes, law or urban transport (Uber and Cabify, among others). Brussels has dared to put figures on a phenomenon that, for now, has very slippery data: it estimates that in Europe there are between 235 and 355 digital platforms that employ some 28.1 million workers, salaried or self-employed, who will reach 43 million in 2025.

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The cataract of figures does not stop at a global quantification of the phenomenon. The Community Executive also goes down to putting numbers on precariousness when it points out in an impact study prior to the directive that 55% of these workers earn less per hour worked than what is set in the minimum interprofessional wage (SMI) of the corresponding country. Or when it indicates that this group works 8.9 hours a week without receiving any remuneration for it (waiting to receive orders) for 12.9 hours of remuneration. It also points out that there are 5.5 million people who are subject to some type of control by the company and, therefore, could be false self-employed, although it reduces the number of those who can be reclassified to 4.1 million.

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To detect this “certain control” of the platforms, Brussels sets several criteria. One of them is if the worker can negotiate the remuneration, since if the option does not exist, it can be understood that he does not have autonomy. The same conclusion is reached if there is electronic supervision or if rejecting orders has consequences. Thus, the Commission desists from establishing a definition of what is understood as a salaried worker, a competence that is exclusive to the States, although it does provide tools to identify them.

The step taken this Wednesday in Brussels is only the beginning of the community legislative process that, probably, will not be peaceful or free from pressure. Digital platforms have warned, as they did in Spain, that a regulation of this type will punish employment. Some such as Free Now, which in Spain is a taxi service, but in other countries it is more similar to Cabify, points out that it does not give the necessary certainty and that the Commission’s demands can be used later by the courts to review the employment situation of those affected.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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