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Lights out for the Platform Work Directive? Young workers won’t forget.

20/02/2024

After multiple rounds of negotiations, and a number of failed attempts, a final deal on the Platform Work Directive seems further away than ever. In what was regarded as a final attempt to secure a deal before the European elections 2024, any hope of an agreement was dropped as a small number of Member States (4 out of 27) strongly opposed granting platform workers even the most fundamental workers' rights.

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Alex Q t
Alex Quinn

voted against: France | abstained: Germany, Greece, Estonia

How did it all begin?

Back in 2019, this piece of EU legislation was put on the top of the agenda. The intention was simple: to improve the often hugely insecure and volatile working conditions of platform workers (commonly referred to as gig-workers), many of whom are young people from vulnerable and marginalised backgrounds. Unfortunately, a small minority of member states have blocked a final deal being reached, allowing the platform companies to continue to undermine workers rights.

Black mirror = real life

By now it’s no secret that platform work is often characterised by multiple injustices and exploitation. While platform companies are quick to celebrate the freedom and independence that this work supposedly provides, it’s difficult to argue with the facts: 41% of platform workers' working time is unpaid and 55% earn less than the hourly minimum wage in the country that they work. You’d be right for thinking - if this is what independence and freedom means, then no thank you.

On top of this, add in the fact that rights such as holiday pay, sick pay, parental leave, minimum wages, health and safety protections, and restrictions on working hours are often completely absent. Platform workers also run the very real risk of being fired on the spot without notice by an automated system, or what’s known as robo-firing.

The bigger picture

This is no small matter. The insecurity and injustice imposed on platform workers has consequences for where the world of work could be heading. It is expected that the platform economy will grow by 52% before 2026, encompassing 43 million workers.

They are delivery couriers, cleaners, child-minders, household trades people, coders, academics, the list goes on. New EU legislation couldn’t have come at a more crucial time. Unfortunately, it hasn't been delivered. These workers have been let down, and 800+ days since the law was proposed, the EU has failed to establish even the bare minimum of protection.

Failure to reach an agreement on the platform work directive sends out a worrying message: digital labour platforms can continue to disrupt and undermine hard-fought and long-standing workers rights both now and into the future. The price: millions of young people will continue to feel the sharp end of insecurity and uncertainty linked to this work.

And now what?

With the current EU mandate finishing up soon, it is now likely that an agreement will be pushed to the next term (2024 - 2029). With this, a golden opportunity to set an example for the rest of the world on how to tame the platform economy for the benefit of workers has, at least for now, slipped away.

Not all is lost! There are some positive takeaways amidst the disappointment. In the end, 23 member states did vote in favour of the Platform Work Directive. This is something that all those who stood on the side of the platform workers throughout the negotiations can consider a win. And when all is said and done, there is nothing preventing these member states from taking action at the national level. Another positive is that the injustices imposed on platform workers have become more and more visible. The conversation on platform work and the injustice these workers face is now more than ever in the spotlight.

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