New moves to reinforce employment rights on digital job platforms

March 3, 2021

Last month the Supreme Court ruled in Uber’s appeal against the lower courts’ decisions that its drivers were workers and, on the facts of the case, were entitled to be paid for their time when logged into the Uber app.  

The case is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the gig economy, as well as in relation to the payment of VAT and the minimum wage.

The case comes when the issue has an increasing profile internationally and in the last few days the International Labour Organization has issued a report on digital platforms, and the European Commission has launched a consultation on protecting people working through platforms.

ILO report

The report focuses on two main types of digital labour platform: online web-based platforms, where tasks are performed online and remotely by workers, and location-based platforms, where tasks are performed at a specified physical location by individuals, such as taxi drivers and delivery workers. 

The ILO says that as digital labour platforms operate across multiple jurisdictions, international policy dialogue and coordination is needed to ensure regulatory certainty and the application of international labour standards. It calls for global social dialogue and regulatory cooperation between digital labour platforms, workers and governments, which could lead over time to a more effective and consistent approach towards a number of objectives to ensure that:

  • Workers’ employment status is correctly classified and is in accordance with national classification systems.
  • There is transparency and accountability of algorithms for workers and businesses.
  • Self-employed platform workers can enjoy the right to bargain collectively.
  • All workers, including platform workers, have access to adequate social security benefits, through the extension and adaptation of policy and legal frameworks where necessary.
  • Platform workers can access the courts of the jurisdiction in which they are located if they so choose.

European Commission consultation

The European Commission has launched the first-stage consultation of European social partners on how to improve the working conditions for people working through digital labour platforms. The EU points out that platform work is developing rapidly in the EU across a growing number of business sectors. It can offer increased flexibility, job opportunities and additional revenue, including for people who might find it more difficult to enter the traditional labour market. However, certain types of platform work are also associated with precarious working conditions, reflected in the lack of transparency and predictability of contractual arrangements, health and safety challenges, and insufficient access to social protection. Additional challenges related to platform work include its cross-border dimension and the issue of algorithmic management. 

The aim of the first-stage consultation of social partners is to invite the views of European social partners on the need and direction of possible EU action to improve the working conditions in platform work and it will be open for at least six weeks.

The Commission is asking the following questions:

  • Do you consider that the European Commission has correctly and sufficiently identified the issues and the possible areas for EU action?
  • Do you consider that EU action is needed to effectively address the identified issues and achieve the objectives presented?
  • If so, should the action cover all people working in platforms, whether workers or self-employed? Should it focus on specific types of digital labour platforms, and if yes which ones?
  • If EU action is deemed necessary, what rights and obligations should be included in that action? Do the objectives presented in this document present a comprehensive overview of actions needed?
  • Would you consider initiating a dialogue under Article 155 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union on any of the issues identified in this consultation?

Any action taken by the EU will be of interest to UK lawyers watching how the law on employment status may develop.