Uber drivers protest in Brussels on November 25
Uber drivers protest in Brussels on November 25. ‘Digitalisation has . . . put strain on traditional employment and work organisation models,’ says the EU © AFP via Getty Images

So-called platform workers should enjoy the same rights as staff in more secure forms of employment, according to a confidential European Commission document outlining proposed legislation expected to become law in the next two years.

Brussels wants rights extended to gig workers in the EU “irrespective of the contractual designation” of their relationship with the likes of Uber, meaning workers’ rights would be linked to the work they do, regardless of how they are described in any contract.

Following months of consultation, the proposals seek protection for platform workers against dismissal and adverse treatment and the right to compensation in cases in which their rights have been violated.

The draft proposal, which is still being discussed among EU regulators, says member states must ensure gig workers in employment and those whose work has been terminated “have access to effective and impartial dispute resolution and right to redress, including adequate compensation” if their rights have been breached.

“Digitalisation is changing the world of work, improving productivity and enhancing flexibility,” the draft reads. “This has created new opportunities for the labour market, but also put strain on traditional employment and work organisation models.”

The European Commission, the executive body of the EU, is set to publish the proposals on December 8 following consultations with workers’ unions and ride-hailing companies.

In February, Nicolas Schmit, the EU’s commissioner for jobs and social rights, said: “We want platform workers to have access to the same rights as all other workers” regardless of their status.

The draft highlights how several court cases in Europe have revealed that workers in the digital economy have persistently had their employment status misclassified.

It comes after a string of decisions in countries across Europe, including the UK, Spain, Italy, Greece and the Netherlands, on whether ride-hailing app workers are self-employed.

Last August, Spain introduced new laws for gig workers, reclassifying them as employees. France fell short of granting gig workers employee status and instead authorities there approved a plan for workers to elect representatives to seek deals on social issues. The UK’s top court ruled in February that Uber drivers are workers entitled to rights such as the minimum wage.

Industry bodies representing ride-hailing companies will intensify their lobbying efforts this week as they push back against the commission’s proposals. They argue that not every gig worker wants to be reclassified as an employee and that such legislation risks job losses.

Industry insiders are particularly worried that an EU-wide reclassification of gig workers as employees would lead to hundreds of legal cases across the bloc’s 27 member states.

The draft says that the criteria to classify workers as employees will be defined by member states, leading to concerns of a lack of certainty for platforms or platform workers.

A position paper from MoveEU, a trade body representing ride-hailing companies including Uber and FreeNow, said: “Ride-hailing platforms are very much willing to support improving working conditions of platform workers. But creating more legal uncertainty and litigation will only lead to less work opportunities for the hundreds of thousands of platform workers throughout Europe.”

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