Services unions’ input to the Digital Services Act package

Wednesday 9 September 2020

The European Union’s upcoming Digital Services Act (DSA) Package, which will aim to strengthen the Single Market for digital services and foster innovation and competitiveness online, has direct implications for services workers.

UNI Europa has provided three distinct responses to the European Commission consultation on the Digital Services Act: one response focussed on Amazon’s gatekeeping powers (jointly submitted with UNI Global Union), one focussed on the media, entertainment and arts and one extensive response that touches upon the widespread impact across the services sectors. Furthermore, UNI Europa supports the ETUC response. A few highlights of UNI Europa’s extensive response can be found below:

Self-employed workers and collective bargaining

Through bogus self-employment, many digital service employers are excluding workers from collective bargaining, notably due to incorrect interpretation of EU competition law or the chill effect it brings about. The consultation response highlights the following:

Competition rules currently constitute an obstacle to collective bargaining for workers working in the platform economy and other non-standard workers, including self-employed workers. Safeguarding the fundamental right to collective bargaining for all, by clarifying that it falls completely outside the scope of competition law, will rebalance the internal power relations in platform companies, and consequently also have a calibrating effect on the dominant position in the market.

Platform employment

Over the past couple of decades, the number of employment platforms has multiplied. Too often they take advantage of legal loopholes and force workers into bogus self-employment. UNI Europa summarises its detailed submission as follows:

In short: The Digital Services Act should simply establish that platforms which largely determine the terms and conditions of engagement and provision of services should in fact be held liable as employers. No additional or intermediary employment categories are needed or desirable to rectify this problem, as digital workers must not be considered as second-class workers.

In other words: Platforms must be attributed employer obligations, in order to enable worker agency and ensure fair competition in the relevant service markets (online/offline) as well as in the labour market.

Gatekeeping powers of platforms

The lack of regulation allows digital platforms to act as gatekeepers and thereby engage in abuse of their dominant position, not only towards other digital platforms but also towards brick and mortar service providers offering comparable services offline, as well as towards the platform workers.

In order to ensure a level playing-field, existing regulation must apply equally to digital platforms and physical services, when the end-services are comparable. This must also include labour legislation, social protection, access to collective bargaining and protection under applicable collective agreements.

Artificial intelligence and data management

Platforms in particular continue to collect huge amounts of data on workers. Often, they effectively maintain exclusive control over this data, creating a major power imbalance. Furthermore, the algorithms used can pose a possible source of different kinds of discrimination, as they are often built on stereotypes and limited diversity in data sets and in the design team. To address this, the submission calls for the following (among other things):

Trade unions represented within the platforms should be involved in the design and data management of AI used by the platform, not least in the case where their workers are affected by the data collection etc. The labour Inspectorate should be mandated and properly equipped to prevent digital labour companies from violating labour legislation. (more on UNI’s work on this here)

The consultation process

Given the questions in the consultation, UNI Europa has provided thorough responses to the issue of platform workers. However, regulation to protect workers working in the platform economy should rest under and be elaborated by the relevant competent Cabinet/DG on Jobs and social rights. Moreover, the trade unions have not yet been consulted on the matter.

There are many more issues identified and solutions proposed within the submission. Read the full document here.

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