The European Commission has launched a consultation for “possible action addressing the challenges related to working conditions in platform work”. Platforms that force their workers into bogus self-employment have been a major driver of increasing precarity for working people in Europe over the past decade.
“A worker is a worker. No amount of Uber’s lobbying money can change that simple fact. After spending $200 million to overthrow legislation that gave workers back their rights in California, Uber is now getting its claws out in Europe. The European Commission must take a clear stance and show it protects working people,” said Oliver Roethig, UNI Europa Regional Secretary.
Bogus self-employment platforms claimed for a long time that they operated in a legal grey-zone. Court rulings in many countries, including Spain, France, United Kingdom and most recently in Italy, have shown that there is no grey-zone and that these corporations are simply breaking the law.
On the very day that the European Commission launched its consultation, Milan prosecutors ordered four major food delivery companies to offer employment contracts to their workers. In this city alone, this concerned over a thousand workers, hinting to the scale of the issue across the EU.
By breaking the law and capturing income that would have gone to workers, they have gained huge market share through unfair competition. In so doing, they have attracted major investment which they are now directing at efforts to change legislation at EU level.
“What is the difference between a corporation which systematically breaks the law as part of its business model and organised crime? After years of encroachment and undermining of working people’s conditions, courts across Europe are finding that bogus self-employment platforms are infringing the rules. It would be a historic failure if the EU were to only now wake up and intervene to give a free pass to these voracious corporations, whose workers consistently end up taking home less than minimum hourly wages and benefits. The European Commission must protect workers whether they operate through platforms or not. We cannot exempt Uber et al from their obligations, like these corporations are trying to do in California,” said Oliver Roethig.
Rather than a de facto situation determined by the specific interests of the bogus self-employment corporations to undermine fair competition by attacking fundamental labour rights, it is high time a worker-focussed approach was adopted. Central to that is ensuring workers’ collective bargaining rights are protected and enforced.
Burden of proof
Workers have had to go to courts to prove that they are workers in order to have their rights enforced. This has come at huge financial, time and personal cost. UNI Europa calls on the European Commission to reverse this burden of proof. If platforms corporations classify their workers as self-employed, those platforms should at a minimum be the ones going to court to prove that their claim is legitimate.
Labour inspectorates and public prosecutors must be empowered to effectively enforce labour law. The aim for the European Commission must be for sanctions that are truly deterrent to bogus self-employment in the form of fines on top of back payment of wages and social security payments, to be enforced across the EU.