Renewal of the trade unions - negotiations for (internet) platform workers

All the Trade Union achievements of an entire century are currently in danger of being forgotten in this single generation. The participants of the seminar "Renewal of the trade unions - negotiations for (internet) platform workers", which took place from March 5 to 6, 2020 in Utrecht / Netherlands, agreed that the platform economy played a large part in this. The seminar was organised by CNV (Christelijk Nationaal Vakverbond) in cooperation with ETUI (European Trade Union Institute) and EZA and counted with the financial support of the European Union.

In his welcoming speech, CNV board member Jan-Pieter Daems emphasised it worries all unions, at both European level and worldwide. CNV President Piet Fortuin referred to the grievances in the platform economy: there is no social protection, no participation, no good pay for the workers. Basic Christian social values are violated. These are important even in times of digitalisation and our values not out of date due to the new developments. On the contrary: we need these values today more than ever, because everything is geared to the interests of employers and shareholders and more and more responsibility is being transferred to employees. He urged employers to assume more responsibility.

EZA Secretary General Sigrid Schraml referred to the European Pillar of Social Rights, which urgently needs to be brought engaged. In this process, it is important that the unions closely follow the initiatives that the European Commission will present. Vera Dos Santos, head of the education department at ETUI, warned that the unions need strong actors to follow and direct all these challenges. EZA President Luc Van den Brande urged the unions to act, not to react.

Agnieszka Piasna, research assistant in the Department of Economic, Employment and Social Policies at ETUI, explained the phenomenon of platform workers in a European comparison and from a scientific perspective. The big, legally unresolved question is: who is the employer? Many platform workers see advantages in this type of work, for example more flexibility. This is an important contributing factor, especially for young people (often students).

There are however considerable disadvantages: because of the often very low wages, people have to work long hours to earn a living, the income is irregular, there are poor working conditions, long working hours, poor health conditions, poor reconciliation of family and work, and no further training opportunities are given. The platform is a kind of "black box". You don't really know what's going on there. Another problem is the "parasite" solution to social security. The platform workers either have a regular job or a husband/wife through whom they are covered by social security and also work for a platform through which nothing is paid into social security.

The big question facing unions is: how can they reach platform workers who often do not even know trade unions exist and what the work of trade unions is.

In the example of "Hungary" by Judit Czuglerne Ivany, deputy chairperson of MOSZ, we find examples of platform work in Hungary: Uber, tourism, household-related activities, etc. Platform work is not yet very widespread in Hungary. There is a government programme "Digital Hungary", in the preparation of which the social partners were not even involved. It was recognised that new legislation was necessary, with support for social security, salary level, working hours etc.

In the example of "Belgium", Martin Willems, national responsible for "United Freelancers", a new department of the Belgian trade union ACV/CSC, informed that the union wanted to reach everyone who somehow worked as freelancer. He mentioned as major problems: no social contact with the employer, individualisation of work, no collective agreements are possible because there is no precisely applicable law, many platforms are not based in Belgium and can therefore not be contacted, social dumping, no more standard hourly wages, but payment only after the order is placed.

Miet Lamberts, head of research at HIVA/KU Löwen, explained some of the major changes that are currently taking place on the labour market: we are away from the typical, permanent employment relationships, and move towards new kinds of contracts. The trade unions would have great problems in capturing workers in this a-typical employment. They zfd still acting too traditionally and often do not want to represent the platform workers as members. In general, trade unions often find it difficult to represent the self-employed because they are not covered by collective bargaining agreements. However, as the number of these employment relationships increase, this strategy will no longer be possible in the future.

Robert Hoekstra, a doctoral student at the University of Amsterdam, emphasised in his remarks on competition law in the Netherlands that it actually has to be restructured, as there are currently too many loopholes for companies. He recommended a broad EU legislative approach.

Victor Bernhardtz, Ombudsman for digital labour markets at Unionen, described the situation in Sweden, where the platform economy was thinly spread. Only about 6% have used the platform economy in the past 12 months, and mostly only as a sideline. In Sweden, you are traditionally either employed or - about 10% - you work as a "one-man company". This figure has been stable for about 10 years.

Christophe Degryse, head of the foresight department at ETUI, presented a historical outline of the development of the production chains with the fragmentation of the individual components of the workplace. He went on to analyse the different types of platform work and impressively described his experiences in self-experimentation in different forms of platform economy. It became very clear that the salary level is extremely low even for highly qualified work. The positive thing is that access to work (not as an employment relationship!) Is extremely simplified. This is above all positive for people who would otherwise have difficulty accessing work. A polarisation of the labour market must be avoided.

Tjitze van Rijssel, CNV negotiator for road traffic, used the Deliveroo example in the Netherlands to explain that platform work is not incompatible with social dialogue and how these platforms could be handled by the unions.

Ludovic Voet, Federal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, recalled that although platform work is not yet widespread, the effects of its mechanisms on the “normal” world of work should not be underestimated. The competitive advantage of the platforms is that they (can) ignore labour legislation because they cannot be tackled. He therefore asked for the obligations for platforms to be regulated uniformly across Europe, in terms of the type of industrial relations, social protection, the right to organise and join a union, the right to collective bargaining, working conditions, minimum wages per hour, break times, security and health protection at work etc. Certain minimum standards need to be observed. Here he called for close cooperation between employee and employer organisations.

The following characteristics of platform work were determined and discussed

- monitoring

- no further training opportunities

- lack of social security

- more psychosocial stress

- poor working conditions

- long working hours

- poor health framework

- poor compatibility of family and work

- no contact with the employer

- individualization of the work, lack of social contract

- no collective agreements possible because there is no precisely fitting law

- many platforms are not based in an EU country and are therefore not reachable

- social dumping

- no more traditional hourly wages, but payment after order is delivered

- the employer "disappears" behind the platform, algorithms take on tasks that the employer would normally have to perform by humans

- not all platform workers want an employment contract, many also value their independence and flexibility


Our conclusions and our demands

- There are three types of challenges: legal, political and social

- A major problem is that case law is not uniform across Europe. The definition of "employee" and "employer" is not the same in all EU countries. There is a great need to take action here.

- The European Commission is therefore asked to create a legal framework to protect the interests of platform workers.

- Many unions have problems reaching platform workers. We urgently need to develop appropriate strategies to respond to their needs.

­- The platforms must be tangible, become reachable and legally forced to deal with the trade unions.

- Platform data and algorithms need to be transparent.

- Platforms must be seen as an employer.