Photo credits: Biserka Stojanovic

On 2 February 2023, the European Parliament (EP) voted in favour of amendments to the European Commission’s platform worker directive that would introduce a presumption of employment and increase algorithmic transparency.

After months of arduous negotiations and a vote postponed for two weeks, the much debated and politically sensitive platform work draft directive was finally approved in plenary, with 376 in favour and 212 against. The EP approved the report from its Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL), which sets its negotiating position, with measures to combat false self-employment in platform work, human oversight on all decisions affecting working conditions, and a requirement for platforms to share more information with national authorities. Most importantly, the right of platform workers to a proper employment contract would ensure they receive rights such as paid sick leave, paid holiday, and rates of pay according to national legislation or collective agreements.

According to the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), these measures are of paramount importance to ‘prevent Europe’s social model being eroded by a spiral of downward competition based on evasion of labour, tax and social obligations’. ETUC Confederal Secretary Ludovic Voet said: ‘For too long, platform companies run by multimillionaires have been using loopholes in the law to escape their most basic obligations to their workforce and society. The explosion of false self-employment has left millions of people working longer for less, disadvantaged the majority of businesses which play by the rules and impoverished our public services through unpaid taxes’.

Now the Council of the EU has to come to its position, so that the ‘trilogue’ interinstitutional negotiations can begin. Leïla Chaibi, one of the most active MEPs in the defense of the rights of platform workers, is fairly pessimistic about the position of the right-wing Swedish Presidency of the Council. ‘We already know that their text is going to be less ambitious than the Parliament’s report, and even of the Commission’s proposal. An agreement should be reached in March: we don’t expect it to be great’, she says.

According to Chaibi, the strategy is to ‘stall negotiations until the Spanish Presidency takes office in July’. Spain is known for being supportive of an interventionist approach in relation to platform work regulation. The 'Riders Law' introduced by Spain in May 2021 was the first presumption of employment for food delivery couriers in Europe. A Spanish Presidency would however not change the arithmetic in the Council, where ‘there is a block of states that are really against the Directive, such as Sweden, the Baltic countries, and France,’ Chaibi explains. In December 2022, the Czech Presidency's proposal – on the side of the platforms – showed that nine states were willing to resist a text which would have made the Directive toothless. Even then, two out of those nine states (Germany and Romania) abstained in the vote.

After the EP vote, the ETUC urged the Council to adopt a proposal which matches the ambition shown by the European Parliament. Copenhagen rider and Gig Economy Project contributor Rasmus Hjorth said that ‘we have Swedish comrades and a strong Swedish labour movement that will do everything in its power to prevent [the Swedish Presidency pushing through a right-wing text’. According to Chaibi, one of the challenges the labour movement faces with lobbying the Council of the EU is the opacity of its decision-making processes. Chaibi wants to pressure the Council to publish the minutes of its meetings. ‘Without clarity, there can be no ownership of the process by citizens,’ she argues.

The European Parliament mandate is undoubtedly a win for platform workers' rights, but there is a long way to go before that translates into something material for Europe's platform workers.