The platform workers will soon become employees, according to a European directive that was presented today. That should prevent them from being treated badly. They are currently hired as self-employed persons, who are paid per assignment they receive via a digital platform. Often it concerns less than the minimum wage and they are not insured in the event of accidents.
About 500 platform companies are active in Europe. In total, 28 million Europeans work for a platform company such as Deliveroo, Uber and Fiverr and that number is expected to rise sharply in the coming years.
Platform work does not always go well, says EU Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis. “Platform workers deserve the same protection as others in the EU under our social model. They sometimes still face misqualification of employment and poor access to social protection.”
According to economist Walther Ploos van Amstel, this means that platform companies will have to pay their staff more fairly. “They have to pay on the basis of hours and not on the basis of pieces. They will also be responsible if something goes wrong, for example in the event of an accident involving a bicycle courier.”
Wouter van der Weerd, courier at Deliveroo and Uber Eats, is happy with the new guideline. It gives him financial security. “Now I get paid per order. Sometimes I have good days, but sometimes I’m online all day and I only get five to ten orders. Then I earn 25 to 50 euros.”
With a guaranteed income, he can save for his retirement, says Van der Weerd. “I started doing this job because I like cycling and you get a lot of freedom. But it’s a shame that the delivery person is being exploited, it’s modern slavery. If I get a contract soon and I’m not paid per order but per hour, I’ll stay I like to do this job.”
His client, Deliveroo, sees it very differently. “Examples from around the world clearly show that the reclassification of delivery drivers has negative consequences not only for themselves, but also for consumers, restaurants and the local economy. These proposals increase uncertainty and benefit lawyers more than the self-employed platform workers,” the company said in a written response.
Home delivery, which does offer the deliverers a contract, also responds in writing. “Our company already employs tens of thousands of couriers across the EU, proving that offering flexibility doesn’t have to come at the expense of workers’ rights.”
The company hopes that the European proposal will “create clarity and a level playing field”. “To ensure that companies across Europe are held to the same standards so that all platform workers are treated with the dignity they deserve.”
Couriers and other platform workers can’t cheer right away. The EU directive has yet to be translated into national legislation. And that can take a long time, says economist Ploos van Amstel.
“The resistance will be great, in Europe the labor costs will rise by 4 to 8 billion euros. Those platform companies are mega-sized, they will not let themselves be fooled. They will continue to lobby the European Commission. It is a long-term matter, only over three to five years we notice an effect.”
What started as a side job for students has now become permanent work for many people, Van Amstel knows. “But they are not protected. There is no independence even though they call themselves entrepreneurs. They are controlled by an algorithm and a system that dictates when they have to work and where.”
More expensive pizza
MEP Agnes Jongerius is pleased with the arrival of the directive.
“We are putting an end to the business model that is used by many platforms. It is also not decent if as a company you let your staff pay for the costs and do not pay taxes and premiums. Maybe they pass on the higher wage costs and you become pizza slightly more expensive, but then it is the price for decency,” said the PvdA member, who was previously chairman of the FNV trade union.
cat and mouse game
Martijn Arets, who researches the platform economy, does not expect immediate improvements for platform workers either. “Platform companies will try to buy time to fight these rules, they will go to court. They will also do everything they can to get out of the rules.”
He expects a “cat and mouse game in which companies will look under what criteria they are seen as a platform company and “adjust things so that they do not fall under those rules.”
In the future, according to the EU, there will be an employer status, for example, if the platform company determines the remuneration, sets requirements for clothing (e.g. company clothing), monitors performance digitally, determines working hours or limits the opportunities to work for others.
Arets is nevertheless positive about the European plan. It becomes easier to prove that you are an employee. “The burden of proof is reversed. Now a delivery person has to go to court. I am not a freelancer but an employee. Soon the platform company will have to prove that someone is a freelancer.”
More and more Dutch people earn their money with platform work. The best known are Uber, Uber Eats and Deliveroo, but the Netherlands has more than 125 platforms in total, according to the SER. From Helplinq for a cleaner and NannyNina with whom you can find a babysitter for your child to Elanza for self-employed people in care. In many cases it is uncertain in advance how much they can earn on a working day.
There are no exact figures about the number of Dutch people who work via a platform. According to a small non-representative sample from TNO, about 5.5 percent of self-employed entrepreneurs use a platform to get jobs. For some it is an occasional assignment, others receive all their work via a platform.