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Digital workers prioritize flexibility — not employment

Sara Skyttedal, Miriam Lexmann, Radan Kanev, Gheorghe Falcă, Jessica Polfjärd, Lukas Mandl, Stefan Berger, Tomáš Zdechovský, Romana Tomc, Christian Sagartz, Eugen Tomac, Rosa Estaràs Ferragut are members of the European People’s Party Group in Parliament and are part of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs.

The digital platform economy has undoubtedly become an essential part of our lives, shaping everything from employment to transportation and consumption.

But this growing part of our economy also presents its own unique set of challenges — challenges that must be addressed by a clear and balanced legal framework. And as the European Parliament considers a new directive, a large question still looms: should platform workers be considered employees; and do they want to?

The new directive on improving conditions for digital platform workers that is being considered by Parliament currently has two key points. — introducing new rules on algorithmic management, which is both welcome and necessary, and the presumption of employment, which, unfortunately, is misguided in its scope.

Parliament has, of course, addressed this issue of employment before — but in a much more even-handed manner.

Authored by MEP Sylvie Brunet of Renew Europe, and adopted by a majority of 524 MEPs, an own-initiative report from September, focusing on social protections for platform workers, had called for a limited presumption of employment. This meant, the report’s compromise targeted “bogus self-employment” — as in work that comes with all the responsibility of an employee but none of the benefits. And while doing so, it recognized the rights of the genuinely self-employed, stopping short of anything close to a mass reclassification of platform workers.

However, the coalition that passed this balanced Brunet report is now at risk.

In its directive proposal in December, the Commission introduced much broader criteria for reclassification, which would now encompass the vast majority of platform workers. And just last month, the rapporteur in the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL), MEP Elisabetta Gualmini of the Progressive Alliance of the Socialists and Democrats, decided to do away with the presumption of employment in all but name, and replace it with rules that would lead to mandatory employment for everyone who works via digital platforms.

But numerous independent studies have repeatedly shown that the vast majority of platform workers value flexibility and better earnings, as well as the ability to work with multiple platforms at the same time, more than they do the benefits of a traditional employment relationship.

Consequently, few would be in favor of the Commission’s proposal, let alone the draft report currently being considered at the EMPL Committee, which would automatically reclassify them as employees, depriving them of the ability to combine their work with other sources of income, caring responsibilities, studies or other personal commitments.

While both the Commission and Parliament’s rapporteur set out with the best of intentions, if we are to achieve a more balanced directive, there remain essential key points that must be taken into account regarding platforms and their growing importance in the digital economy.

Firstly, it’s important not to overlook the wishes of those who work in the platform economy today, who prefer to keep their status as self-employed. In short, they value work flexibility over the benefits of more traditional employment.

Additionally, it must be remembered that a directive in line with the report would target not only those working as drivers and couriers but also tens of thousands of highly skilled professionals, utilizing the internet to find clients. And since such services can be provided from anywhere in the world, the proposed directive risks putting European professionals — software developers, translators and language teachers — at a massive disadvantage to their non-EU competitors.

Finally, the currently proposed directive would disregard the digital transition. For example, these proposals would dictate that a ride-hailing driver who works through an app would have to become an employee of the app developer, whereas a similar driver working through a dispatching office and a two-way radio would be able to maintain the benefits of self-employment. Thus, the directive could end up giving the greatest commercial advantages to the least inventive companies.

Needless to say, such an approach would be detrimental to European competitiveness, as well as European jobs.

That is why we, as EMPL members of the European People’s Party Group in Parliament, will seek to restore balance to the proposal and strive for a directive that affirms the digital transition, targets bogus self-employment, and protects the rights of the genuinely self-employed by ensuring that platform workers can continue to make the decisions best suited for them.

Innovation is in Europe’s DNA. And while increased digitalization has led to job losses in many sectors, we truly believe that with a proper and balanced legal framework, Europe can make up for this loss and become a world leader in the growing platform economy.

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