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  • Cristina Lefter

On the way to a Platform Workers’ Directive

What does it mean to be a “platform worker”? According to the European Industrial Relations Dictionary,[1]platform work” is “a form of employment in which organisations or individuals use an online platform to access other organisations or individuals to solve specific problems or to provide specific services in exchange for payment.” This immediately triggers the thought: “Oh, this is Uber!” or “This is Bolt/Glovo/[any other similar service].” But a platform worker may also offer their services for qualified services, such as programming, copyright services or even legal services.


At EU level, it was considered that the conditions under which platform workers offer and provide their services often resembles employment conditions. According to official data, approximately 28 million workers in the EU are platform workers, while about 5.5 million thereof are working under conditions resembling employment, while not benefitting from the benefits of such set-out.[2] Thus, the European Commission initiated in December 2021 a public debate in relation to a new draft directive on “improving condition of persons working through digital labour platforms” i.e. the so-called “Platform Workers Directive” (EU Directive 2021/0414 Improving working conditions of persons working through digital labour platforms) (see the draft under this link: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52021PC0762&qid=1700641785604 )


If adopted in its current form pending further negotiations and debate, the Platform Workers Directive will create the framework for Member States to adopt national legislation granting platform workers various rights which would otherwise be only available for employees i.e. individuals who have concluded labour agreements. According to the explanatory memorandum to the draft Directive, “the general objective of the proposed Directive is to improve the working conditions and social rights of people working through platforms, including with the view to support the conditions for the sustainable growth of digital labour platforms in the European Union.” while “the specific objectives through which the general objective will be addressed are: (1) to ensure that people working through platforms have – or can obtain – the correct employment status in light of their actual relationship with the digital labour platform and gain access to the applicable labour and social protection rights; (2) to ensure fairness, transparency and accountability in algorithmic management in the platform work context; and (3) to enhance transparency, traceability and awareness of developments in platform work and improve enforcement of the applicable rules for all people working through platforms, including those operating across borders.”


In Romania, the status of platform workers remains for the time being unregulated. Hence, most such workers register either as PFA (self-employed individuals or, in Romanian, persoană fizică autorizată) or they set up limited liability companies via which they provide the services. At governmental level and in the context of EU-wide negotiations/discussions, Romania has expressed its support towards the adoption of regulation in order to create legal safeguards for platform workers (including by instituting a legal (rebuttable) presumption of employment under certain conditions).[3]


Undoubtedly, creating rights and protections for platform workers may prove to be beneficial in certain circumstances (for social benefits mostly). However, the question remains why regulate platform work in the first place? Isn’t it just as clear that individuals choosing to do platform work effectively have opted out of the standard type of employment allowing certain particular rights, but removing the benefit of enhanced flexibility, at least a certain degree of self-management of time and other resources and allowing the practice (or even simulation) of entrepreneurship (if not actually creating the basis for it)? And if the answer to this question is a sound “yes”, then why do we need regulation? The continuing debate on the draft Directive may suggest that the benefits of such regulation are not that obvious to all parties and that the impact may be less than fully favourable. Nevertheless, the Directive is expected to be adopted; more comments to follow on its final form.

[1] Available on the website of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) under the link https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/en/european-industrial-relations-dictionary/platform-work [2] https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/platform-work-eu/ [3] See in this regard the Joint Statement by Belgium, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain regarding the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on improving working conditions in platform work: https://gouvernement.lu/dam-assets/documents/actualites/2023/06-juin/12-engel-directive-travail-epsco/proposal-for-a-directive-of-the-european-parliament-and-of-the-council -on-improving-working-conditions-in-platform-work-joint-statement.pdf

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