A long-promised European Union directive giving full employment rights to “gig economy” workers could fall victim to the EU elections, experts told Brussels Signal.
The EU has 28 million such gig workers on platforms including Uber and Deliveroo.
The European Parliament backs giving them employment rights but the European Council is split, with France leading opposition.
A provisional agreement quickly came unstuck in late December. Now, a final deal has to be struck by mid-February, at which point law-makers will cease work in order to campaign for June’s European Parliament elections.
Ben Wray, co-ordinator of the media network for gig workers the Gig Economy Project, told Brussels Signal: “That the EU can be working on this for four and a half years and can’t come to an agreement is an indictment of the institution.
“Corporate lobbyists have far more sway than the domestic cleaners and home carers that work via apps in the gig economy,” he added.
On December 13, the Council triumphantly announced a deal with the European Parliament over a proposed directive granting platforms employed status if they meet two of five tests.
These tests include them supervising employees’ performance, including electronically, and controlling how tasks are distributed and allocated.
Workers satisfying those tests would be granted the same labour rights as all other employees under national and EU law.
On December 22, the Council backtracked, with Spain as its then-president saying it could not put together the majority of Member States needed.
Belgium, having taken over as President this month, will now see if it can reach an agreement but time is quickly running out.
The directive’s backers say gig-economy workers should have the same labour rights EU and national law gives employees.
“In most European countries, healthcare is okay with or without a job, but the pension provisions can be less clear,” said Richard Baldwin, a professor of international economics at the International Institute for Management Development, based in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“Moreover, there are things like maternity and paternity leave, annual holiday, sick leave, and being able to get a mortgage.”
The imperilled directive has drawn criticism about to what extent it would improve the lot of those working in the gig economy.
Some economists have argued platforms that use them will transfer increases in their business cost to their workers by taking higher commissions.
Others said domestic workers on platforms such as findacleaner.ie would not benefit as much from broad-brush reforms, despite their precarious status, as they form a smaller share of the gig workforce.
“We can look at recent experiences from New York and Seattle, where local government raised the minimum wage for gig drivers,” said Barak Sas, who is the director of a mobility business.
“The action Instacart, DoorDash, Uber and others took was increasing order fees and making it harder to tip,” he said.
So, platforms passing on the costs and making it harder to receive gratuities hurts drivers.
The risks of self-employment status were brutally exposed during the Covid pandemic, when many in the gig economy suddenly had no work but could not access social security support.
Others did maintain employment but lost pay while sick if they developed Covid.
“The European social model was set up and based on a stable long-term employment,” Baldwin said.
“We just have to make sure that the social contract is updated to reflect the fact that people may have precarious jobs and several streams of income.”
Wray added: “Suffice to say, a worker with an Uber Eats back-pack, a bike and a phone is not an entrepreneur.”