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Platform Economy

Participatory and interdisciplinary: the origins of the key issues paper on a fair platform economy

Published on 05 Feb 2021

The key issues paper on the platform economy is the result of an intensive dialogue with platform workers and operators, trade unions, and researchers on developments in the platform economy.


The key issues paper entitled “Fair work in the platform economy” is the result of an intensive two-year dialogue process: over the last few years, the Policy Lab has been closely observing trends in the platform economy. In particular, several events and workshops that we have realised since 2018 have focused on online platforms for the placement of work and services. In this context, we organised a forum for sharing points of view between platform workers and operators, trade unions, and researchers. The key issues paper takes the findings derived from this dialogue into account and describes the implications of the growing platform economy for labour and social policy.

The Policy Lab networked relevant stakeholders in the platform economy

Published in 2016 by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), White Paper Work 4.0 [PDF] (in German) identified digital work platforms as one of the main areas of tension of the working world 4.0. In the coalition agreement for the 19th legislative period, the Federal Government set itself the goal of creating a level playing field for platforms that also took account of the rights of platform workers and consumers. After its establishment in autumn 2018 the Policy Lab defined platforms as one of its priority themes.

The process kicked off with a workshop entitled “The organisation of work in flux” as part of the “New Work – New Security” dialogue on the future (in German) in December 2018. Researchers, representatives of associations and trade unions, employees, self-employed people, and works council representatives discussed the necessary legal scope of labour protection against the backdrop of digitalisation and increasing employment flexibility.

The dialogue with relevant stakeholders was continued in February 2019. Sessions were held in which platform workers and operators had the opportunity to present their point of view and propose approaches. Data transparency, the rights and obligations of platform operators, and the distinction between (solo) self-employed workers and employees were important aspects in this connection.

On this basis, the Policy Lab organised two four-day future labs in May 2019. Two separate groups, each comprising platform workers from the gig and online area, platform operators, trade union representatives, and researchers described the challenges posed by the platform economy and developed approaches. The key issue was whether platform workers need greater support from the government or under social security legislation. Opinions were exchanged intensively on how the needs and expectations of platform workers can be reconciled with platform companies’ interests and the extent to which the legislature can or has to act. A more level playing field between platform workers and operators was also the subject of two discussion panels held at the Digital Summits in 2019 and 2020 with Federal Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Hubertus Heil, practitioners, and representatives of the social partners.

To greater fairness in the platform economy with the key issues paper

The findings of the various formats provide the key underpinnings for the key issues paper published in November 2020. The aim is to create a legal framework that enables platform workers, companies, and consumers to make use of the potential offered by the platform economy. BMAS wants to ensure fair work in the platform economy and, to this end, link new opportunities with proven protection. The aim is for solo self-employed workers in the platform economy to have access to elementary protection mechanisms under employment and social security law and for companies to have the confidence to navigate a level playing field in terms of core working and employment conditions.

In February 2019, the Policy Lab developed an overview of the situation within the framework of the so-called Hearings with actors from the field of the platform economy. Platform workers (who provide their talents on or through a platform) as well as the operators of online platforms were invited to these Hearings and presented their perception, future challenges and possible calls to action that they see in the platform economy. Data transparency, rights and obligations of the platform operators, the differentiation between contract workers and workers were all topics of discussion.

In May of 2019, the Policy Lab hosted two four-day Future-Labs regarding the topic of platform economy with an interdisciplinary group composed of representatives from academia and praxis. A Leitmotiv of the labs was the question of if platform workers truly require more social protections, as this is the case in the current system. Especially noteworthy is that we shed a light on which requirements and entitlements platform workers do have and which interests does the state have in a world with these changed parameters within the economy and society. Additionally these policy proposals have flowed into the work of the Policy Lab.