Matching, only matching (Platform work scenario)

20 Meán Fómhair 2020

The research project ‘Future scenarios of platform work’ explores the economic, labour market and societal impacts of two types of platform work – platform-determined routine work and worker-initiated moderately skilled platform work – by 2030. As part of this project, 10 potential platform work scenarios were derived, and, from these, pointers were developed on what policy could do to make a desirable future happen and to avoid an undesirable one. Below is a description of 1 of the 10 platform work scenarios.

This scenario assumes that the EU labour markets are polarised, and minimum employment standards are provided to all, irrespective of type of employment. Technology is being developed and adopted at a moderate pace, thereby facilitating but not strongly driving the platform economy.

Labour platforms are legally recognised as matching services, and accordingly their service offer does not go beyond networking supply and demand for paid labour. Platforms are subject to certain information obligations related to consumer protection, taxation and social protection. This makes it less attractive for non-EU platform providers to be active on the European market, which becomes dominated by indigenous platforms.

Scenario ID-card 

Driver

Hypothesis

Technology

Moderate adoption

Labour market

Polarisation

Consumer protection

Platform transparency (with legal capacity according to worker status)

Labour regulation

Common approach, minimum standards for all

Sector regulation

Specific trade regulation for platform (matching services)

Information obligations regarding tax and social insurance

Platform information obligation regulated by EU, national enforcement

Platform ownership and governance

Dominance of EU shareholder-value model platforms

Platform business model

Full task specialisation or full diversification of platforms

Identified opportunities and risks

Opportunities

Risks

  • Dominance of EU platforms facilitates regulation and enforcement.
  • Concentration of platform work in urban areas facilitates regulation and enforcement.
  • More widespread use and task diversity within platform work, combined with new platform business models, provides better access to services for private individuals and households. This includes services where demand is likely to increase, such as care and personal services, but which are increasingly difficult to access due to lack of provision or high costs.
  • Transparent and clear sectoral attribution of platform work results in fair competition between platforms and between the platform and the traditional economies, ensures levels of service quality and consumer protection, and facilitates representation, social dialogue and collective bargaining.
  • Minimum labour standards for all improve the employment and working conditions of those platform workers who are genuine self-employed (WI).
  • Increasing demand for services mediated through platform work and advancements in enabling technologies (such as electric bikes and virtual reality) enhances labour market access for a larger group of the population (such as physically less fit or less-skilled individuals).
  • Increasing importance of ratings and automated task assignment based on transparent and objective criteria or algorithms enhances labour market access for some groups typically subject to discrimination (PD).
  • Transparency on the status of platform workers as professional versus non-professional provider increases consumers’ security and hence their willingness to engage in platform work; this fosters earning opportunities for workers.
  • Platform workers’ increased need to offer consumer protection to have a competitive edge in an increasingly competitive platform-mediated peer-to-peer services sector provides new business opportunities for the insurance sector.
  • Reduced evasion of tax and social insurance contributions due to clarification of information-reporting obligations for platforms results in better state income and fewer challenges for the welfare system (PD).
  • Because the enforcement of tax and social insurance information-reporting obligations is not harmonised, platforms are incentivised to establish activities in Member States that have less burdensome procedures. This leads to competition for innovative business models across Member States at the expense of stricter regulatory enforcement and, potentially, the state budget.
  • The dominance of large platforms results in an oligopolistic market situation, hampering the market entry of new players, thereby endangering healthy competition and economic and labour market innovation.
  • Concentration of platform work in urban areas hampers economic convergence of rural and urban areas due to diverging developments (platform work crowding out certain sectors of the traditional economy in urban areas) (WI).
  • Concentration of platform work in urban areas increases the labour market polarisation that is already more severe in urban areas than in rural areas.
  • Increasing platform work in combination with a polarising labour market results in higher levels of labour market segmentation, with limited career options for workers, skills mismatches and potential deskilling. Working conditions deteriorate further due to the strengthening position of platforms caused by a plentiful labour supply and replaceability of workers (PD).
  • As demand for platform work exceeds supply, the power of platforms (and clients) in relation to workers increases, and earning opportunities and working conditions will further deteriorate (PD).
  • The unclear employment status of platform workers poses some risk of misclassification, hence limiting their access to employment rights and entitlements (including social protection and representation), even if minimum labour standards are improved for all (PD).
  • Platform workers’ increased need to offer consumer protection to maintain a competitive edge in an increasingly competitive platform-mediated peer-to-peer services sector with limited possibilities to pass on the emerging costs to clients reduces net earnings of workers (PD).
  • The combination of several developments increases the risk of working poor among platform workers.
  • Increased importance of ratings based on opaque criteria or underdeveloped algorithms unduly hampers workers’ access to work, particularly if portability of ratings across platforms is limited and redress options are few (PD).

 

Driving forces and their expected impact

The project identified eight key driving forces deemed to substantially influence the development of the two analysed types of platform work by 2030: technology, the labour market, consumer protection, labour regulation, sector regulation, information obligations relating to tax and social insurance authorities, platform ownership/governance, and platform business models. Based on assumed developments of these driving forces, 10 possible future scenarios were derived.

Technology

Technology develops at a moderate pace. 5G mobile technology is available only in the main cities, so that the Internet of Things (IoT) has developed only in these cities for predictive maintenance of buildings or large appliances or for tracking vehicles more systematically. Interconnectivity between technologies has improved but requires further development to arrive at a seamless connectivity and fully integrated solutions. Robotics, including artificial intelligence, develops for businesses. Households and private individuals tend to reject connected technologies to avoid companies’ intrusion into their privacy. Electric vehicles have reached a high level of market maturity, with widespread adoption of electric cars and bikes widely used. Autonomous vehicles, in contrast, are still in a trial phase, with pilot projects in some areas, but they are not widely deployed.

Competencies and capacities to develop and implement algorithms, data storage and data analytics have developed and are widespread but have not yet reached their full potential in terms of both technological development and operational deployment in the economy and labour market. 3D printing has reached a substantial level of application in some manufacturing industries and some countries, driven in part by the need to reduce transport to protect the environment. The technology is not common in individual households. Virtual reality is often used for training purposes but not much elsewhere. Augmented reality and blockchain are still being tested, without wide deployment across sectors.

For platform work, a moderate pace of development results in a further concentration of its use in urban areas, while application in more rural areas remains limited. The limitations as regards interconnectivity, algorithms and data analytics hamper the appeal of platform-determined and worker-initiated platform work for business clients; hence, private individuals and households remain the main clientele.

On the demand side, no particular changes in dynamics occur as the services provided are neither strongly fostered nor hindered by the technological developments. For example, the need for maintenance services is unchanged as replacement parts are not yet 3D printed by households themselves.

On the supply side, the advances in electric bikes and virtual reality facilitate platform work for a larger group of workers: electric bikes enable less physically fit people to engage in platform-determined work, and virtual reality enriches training in worker-initiated platform work.

Labour market

In the European economy and labour market, there is a high degree of demand for high-skilled and low-skilled workers, with a hollowing out of moderately skilled jobs (polarisation). This is driven by the combination of megatrends: technological change, environmental developments, demographic change and societal developments, and globalisation.

For platform work, this stimulates more demand for workers for platform-determined work, but also more supply as moderately skilled workers opt for platform work due to a lack of alternatives. This development further enhances the power of platforms (and their clients), as the supply of labour exceeds demand, so workers are replaceable. The result is a further deterioration of the employment and working conditions of platform-determined workers and an increasing skills mismatch.

For the worker-initiated type, the resulting increase of platform work means people are more familiar with and accepting of this business model, which leads to more demand for platform-mediated household services at the expense of more traditional ways of making such arrangements. This improves the situation of workers who use platforms strategically to make a living or to earn additional income, while it decreases the earning opportunities of self-employed workers and companies (and accordingly, their employees) who rely exclusively on the traditional economy.

Consumer protection

EU-level regulation requires platforms to inform clients about the status of the worker (professional as opposed to non-professional service provider) so that clients know who is liable in case of an incident. This enhanced transparency and, hence security, is expected to positively influence clients’ (private individuals and households) willingness to use platform work.

Peer-to-peer providers will consider offering additional insurance as an incentive to clients to assign them tasks, in an effort to remain competitive in a market with a growing number of platform workers. The insurance sector will benefit from offering specific packages for platform workers. However, due to this increased competition, the additional costs arising from such insurance cannot be passed on to the client, burdening the earnings of the workers and risking an increased number of working poor.

Labour regulation

While the employment status of platform workers (that is, whether they are employees or self-employed) remains unclear, the EU establishes a common approach of minimum labour standards for all, including social protection and access to representation. This means that platform workers benefit from the same minimum standards and protections as workers in the traditional economy, for example related to accident, sickness, unemployment and pension insurance; payment at market prices; and health and safety.

However, employment law tends to set higher standards and protections for employees. Hence, while the situation of self-employed improves, they continue to bear a higher level of responsibility for their own labour conditions. As it is likely that the majority of platform workers continue to be considered self-employed, this development is more beneficial for the worker-initiated type (whose workers tend more to be genuine self-employed) than for the platform-determined type (where the risk of misclassification of employment status is higher).

The responsibility for ensuring minimum labour standards rests with the platforms, adding to their administrative and financial burden. Platforms will seek ways to pass on this burden to the workers, for example, by increasing matching fees. This decreases net earnings of workers, especially in platform-determined work, as here workers have more limited opportunities to set prices themselves, and there is stronger competition between workers for tasks.

Sector regulation

Another regulatory clarification is that of the sector attribution of platforms, where a specific trade regulation for platforms is defined: ‘matching services’. This takes into account the particularities of this business model and employment form, as well as its competitive position in relation to related sectors in the traditional economy – for example, temporary work agencies, transport (in the case of platform-determined work) and construction (in the case of worker-initiated work).

This sectoral regulation sets clear standards for requirements for entering and doing business in the platform economy, considering its impact on the traditional economy and society. This not only helps to level the playing field for actors within the platform economy and between the platform and the traditional economy, but also avoids negative societal effects thanks to transparent and clear standards. Furthermore, the clear attribution of platforms to a specific sector fosters social dialogue and collective bargaining. Representation of platform workers becomes stronger, and effective negotiations between workers and platform, or among their representatives, take place take place.

Information obligations regarding tax and social insurance

Across the EU, platforms are subject to the same information obligation as regards tax and social insurance, with enforcement regulated and realised at national level. Workers and clients are informed about this fact and must agree to the collection and use of their before entering business with the platform.

 

Platform ownership and governance

Due to the requirement to adhere to specific sector regulation, platform economy activities in Europe become less attractive for non-EU actors. As a result, the platform economy in the EU becomes dominated by EU platforms that follow a shareholder-value model that aims for profit maximisation. This facilitates the imposition and enforcement of EU or national legislation on the platforms.

 

Platform business model

As a reaction to the changing competitive landscape, platforms adapt their business models. They either mediate a specific type of task only or fully diversify and offer a comprehensive set of services. There is no mix of business models, nor a ‘medium’ position.

This results in more direct competition between platforms, as it is easier for clients to compare services offered; clients, facilitated by the technological advancements, have better access to information and can make more informed decisions. The increasing competitive pressure makes it more difficult for new platforms to enter the market, and established platforms are continuously challenged to retain their position. This competition fosters continuous innovation of service offers to attract clients.

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