EU Looks to Boost Gig Worker Rights Amid Scrutiny of Platforms

The European Commission launched a consultation into the labor conditions of ride-hailing drivers, pizza couriers and others in the gig economy, starting by gathering views from trade unions and employers.

It wants to improve protections for millions of independent workers in the European Union, and the consultation, announced Wednesday, comes at a time when courts are repeatedly ruling their jobs should be considered employed work.

“The digital age opens up great opportunities for businesses, consumers and citizens. We need to make sure that these new forms of work remain sustainable and fair,” said the commission’s Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, who oversees digital and antitrust affairs.

Improvements may be needed in areas such as employment status, health and safety conditions, and social protection, the commission said, as well as access to collective bargaining. Potential rules based on the consultation’s findings could take place later this year.

Uber Technologies Inc. suffered a blow last week after the U.K.’s Supreme Court ruled it must treat its drivers as workers and give them vacation pay, rest breaks and a minimum wage. A French court issued a similar ruling last year, while in Spain, the government is seeking to change laws that could require food-delivery platforms to formally employ couriers.

Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi told Bloomberg last week his company was “ready to do more and go much further” to improve social protections for platform workers but that companies “need clear, progressive laws.”

Around 24 million people, or 11% of the EU’s workforce, have provided services for platforms at least once, and around 3 million of those people do it as a main job, according to the EU. It said trade unions and employers would initially be encouraged to resolve issues among themselves, with new policies kicking in only if that failed.

The scrutiny of platforms’ labor conditions follows many inside the gig economy becoming essential workers during the pandemic, delivering food or groceries to people stuck at home. However, their independent contracts come with with fewer benefits than full employees, notably paid sick leave if they catch coronavirus.

EU antitrust regulators are considering possible exemptions to competition rules to help gig workers push for better pay from platforms, too. Europe’s tough cartel rules have squeezed billions of euros in fines out of companies that collude to increase prices. The same rules have also been used to prevent freelance workers from teaming up to collectively lobby for better wages from powerful employers, such as U.S. tech giants.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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