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Technological progress requires social progress: fair conditions in platform work

In cooperation with the European Commission, the German Federal Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) held a European policy workshop (a so-called “peer review”) on platform work.

The event formed part of a series of online discussions on the subject of "New work - Human-centric Work" which the BMAS has been hosting in the context German Presidency of the EU Council.

The workshop was attended by government representatives and independent experts from Germany and thirteen other European Member States. Further participants included the European Commission and the European research institution Eurofound. The perspective of the social partners was provided by the German Trade Union IG Metal and various platform companies, including the German platform Content.de.

Online platforms: Not a mass phenomenon, but a business model which has caught on

Online platforms are increasingly present in our everyday life, for example in the form of food delivery, transport and household services, but also through online work such as text work, programming and creative services. Many platform workers are classified as solo self-employed and thus do not have the same access to social- and employment protection as standard employees. Although online labour-platforms do not yet constitute a mass phenomenon in EU-Member States, they have the potential to trigger far-reaching changes in our economy: amongst companies, service-providers and consumers, as well as in the labour market. The development is dynamic: According to insights provided by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, roughly ten percent of all working-age Europeans had gained some experience in platform work in 2018; whilst 15 years ago, the business model hardly existed.

In light of this development, several Member States as well as the European Commission and other actors such as the European Parliament and the German Bundestag have started to examine the issue of platform work. A central question is whether, and to what extent, this new business model creates a need for new labour- and social protection rules.

“New work” must also be good work

The BMAS has addressed questions surrounding platform work within a cross-ministerial project group. A basic tenet of the BMAS’ reflections is to ensure that “new work” is good work: in the field of platform work, good working conditions and social security must be ensured. At the same time, companies should be able to maximise the potential of the platform economy as an innovative and dynamic business model with low entry-thresholds to work. Thus, the BMAS sees a potential need for new, specific solutions, rather than a general “one size fits all” response.

The goal of the Peer Review was to build a common understanding of platform work and to form a basis for future discussions on national and international initiatives. To this end, the experts exchanged views on the situation and solutions in the individual EU Member States and discussed possible options for action at the European level.

Dr. Julia Borggräfe, Director General for “Digitalisation and Work” in the BMAS opened the event and commented:

»Online labour platforms offer significant opportunities: they offer efficiency and productivity gains, and can provide people with a relatively easy route into work and access to new markets - especially given the cross-border potential of platform work. At the same time, we need to make sure that we preserve existing standards. Fair working conditions and social protection need to be safeguarded - including for self-employed service providers.«

Dr. Julia Borggräfe

Shaping platform work: What role can the EU play?

The participants discussed which specific opportunities and challenges exist in relation to platform work. Further, potential policy instruments for addressing and strengthening platform work were explored. The participants also exchanged their experiences and views on current regulations and possible future initiatives - including by drawing on best practices. In the light of the cross-border nature of the platform economy, participants discussed what role EU regulation could play in relation to platform work.

Max Uebe, Head of Unit in the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL) of the European Commission commented:

»The intensive exchange with experts from 13 Member States will assist greatly in developing EU initiatives for improved working conditions in the platform economy. Over the past few days it was discussed that Europe-wide approaches are becoming increasingly important in view of cross-border platform work – for example, in relation to the registration or certification of platforms and in relation to more transparency and data collection; but also in matters of law enforcement, competition law and tax issues. My sincere thanks go to the BMAS, which hosted this peer review during the German Council Presidency.«

Max Uebe

From the perspective of the BMAS, the Peer Review constituted an important step in exploring innovative options for promoting good work in the platform economy - not only at the national but also at the European level. The event also provided a valuable opportunity for building ties between key experts and actors in the field of platform economy.

Learn more about platform work

In the BMAS anthology to mark Germany’s Council Presidency you can find several articles on the subject of platform work - for example, "Why the Self-Employed Present Challenges for Labour-Policy Design" and "Online Labour Platforms in Europe”.

Here you can find further information on the event as well as on the role of Peer Reviews for European policy-making.

Published on 29 Oct 2020 on the topic: Platform economy

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