Worker and trade union power (Platform work scenario)

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.

In this scenario, labour shortages in combination with various legal clarifications strengthen platform workers’ position in relation to platforms. Trade unions and other representative bodies support workers effectively in achieving decent working conditions, and emerging platform business models contribute to further improving employment and working conditions. The overall outcome is, compared to other scenarios, positive.

 

Scenario ID-card

Driver 

Hypothesis 

Technology 

Fast adoption 

Labour market 

Recovery, labour demand dominates 

Consumer protection 

Platform liability 

Labour regulation 

No common approach, various clear definitions in Member States 

Sector regulation 

General sector regulation applies to platforms (no specific platform regulation) 

Information obligations regarding tax and social insurance 

Platform information guidance provided by EU, high level of national discretion for implementation and enforcement 

Platform ownership and governance 

Market maturity of new platform-ownership models (stakeholder-value models) 

Platform business model 

Market diversification and expansion 

Identified opportunities and risks 

Opportunities

Risks

  • More widespread use and task diversity within platform work provides better access to services to the dominant client group – 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.
  • New platform business models oriented on stakeholder value rather than shareholder value contribute to better job quality and overall entrepreneurial activity. In the longer run, they raise clients’ expectations in relation to the responsible behaviour of all platforms (WI).
  • Increasing demand for services mediated through platform work and advancements in enabling technologies (such as electric bikes and virtual reality) enhance labour market access for a larger group of the population (such as physically less fit or less-skilled individuals).
  • Technological advancements increase the scale and scope of platform work beyond urban areas; this can contribute to economic and social convergence of rural and urban areas.
  • Technological advancements and task diversity within platform work make this employment form and business model more attractive for business clients; this can contribute to make production and service provision processes more efficient, and thereby foster the competitiveness and innovation capacity of the European economy.
  • An increasing share of business clients can contribute to improve working conditions for platform workers due to reputational effects.
  • Decreasing demand for ‘traditional’ platform work tasks due to automation improves competition in the platform economy; established platforms are challenged, giving room for new market entrants, which can result in a healthier platform economy and fosters innovation.
  • Increasing demand for services mediated through platform work, supported by clear consumer protection and employment status, improves overall job quality and working conditions, including social protection and representation (PD) or facilitates earning opportunities for those strategically using platform work (WI).
  • Consumer protection that holds platforms liable fosters demand among clients for platform-mediated services, and hence increases work opportunities, training opportunities and service quality (PD).
  • Consumer protection that holds platforms liable provides new business opportunities for the insurance sector.
  • Consumer protection that holds platforms liable, in combination with limited scope to pass on emerging costs and platforms being subject to general sectoral regulations, help to level the playing field between the platform and the traditional economies.
  • Reduced evasion of tax and social insurance contributions due to clarified employment status and information-reporting obligations for platforms results in better state income and fewer challenges for the welfare system (PD).
  • Expansion and diversification of platform work results in the crowding out of comparable services in the traditional economy with better employment and working conditions (PD).
  • An increasing share of business clients drives down rates in platform work due to higher cost awareness.
  • The unregulated employment status of platform workers results in misclassification, meaning limited access to employment rights, social protection and representation (PD).
  • The unharmonised approach to the employment status of workers and the enforcement of platforms’ obligations to report tax and social insurance information results in competition for innovative business models across Member States. This incentivises countries to opt for less burdensome regulation for platforms to the disadvantage of workers and potentially the state budget (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 quickly, fostered in part by EU and national initiatives in the digital era. For example, EU, national and regional funding programmes supporting innovation, notably related to the development and deployment of technologies, are increased and efforts to make them accessible and effective for research and business are taken.

5G mobile technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, electronic and autonomic vehicles, 3D printing, and augmented and virtual reality have reached a level of technological and market maturity that allows for their widespread deployment in the economy and society. Interconnectivity between technologies as well as competencies and capacities to develop and implement algorithms, data storage and data analytics have developed and are widespread. This increases use of and demand for platform work, the clientele of which is now not only private individuals and households, but also a large share of businesses using platforms as a tool in their work organisation (outsourcing).

At the same time, demand for some services mediated through platforms decreases, including transport services that can be provided by autonomous vehicles (platform-determined work) or household services that can be done by robots or by the individuals themselves assisted by 3D-printed parts, augmented and virtual reality (worker-initiated work). From a supply-side perspective, 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 skills development in worker-initiated platform work.

Labour market

The potential inherent to the fast technological development results in continued economic recovery, linked to new business models and the types of products and services offered in traditional and platform economies. Accordingly, labour demand exceeds supply, which is also due to demographic and societal developments. This enhances workers’ position in the labour market, and they can choose among employment offers. Employment and working conditions improve as employers strive to secure their workforces. This also holds true for platform work. Both platforms and clients are incentivised to offer good conditions to get their service needs covered.

The improvement of employment and working conditions notably benefits platform-determined workers, but it also more generally promotes entrepreneurialism. This is because there is less reluctance to engage in platform work and more workers take the opportunity to use worker-initiated work to try out self-employment, and to learn and apply their skills and capacities in the economy (both traditional and platform). Such attitudes and competences further economic development, Europe’s competitive situation and innovation potential.

Consumer protection

Across the EU, Member States have harmonised consumer protection. The regulation clearly establishes that clients can hold platforms liable in case of incidents. The platform might hold the workers responsible subsequently, but clients can never directly approach workers for indemnification. This clarity, in combination with the ‘stronger partner’ (the platforms) being held liable if needed, increases consumers’ willingness to become clients in the platform economy. This further enhances the demand for services mediated through online platforms and apps, and, in turn, the demand for platform workers.

Platforms seek ways to minimise their risks, passing them on to the workers, for example, through higher fees, is not possible as there is competition for workers across platforms, and only those offering the best conditions succeed. Accordingly, platforms buy new insurance products protecting them from such risks, thereby driving growth in the insurance sector. Additionally, they place more emphasis on training workers to ensure better service quality and reduce the risk of incidents for which they might be held liable.

Labour regulation

There is no legal clarification on the employment status of platform workers at EU level, but some Member States establish regulatory frameworks clearly defining whether platform workers are employees or self-employed. This results in different approaches across Member States, but it clarifies issues of employment status and related rights and entitlements for workers and obligations of platforms in those countries where frameworks are established. In combination with the favourable labour market situation, platform work grows particularly in those countries where platform workers are employed in platform-determined work, as workers will opt for traditional employment for comparable tasks if inferior employment and working conditions are offered in platform work.

Sector regulation

There is regulatory clarification that specific sector regulation as regards market access, certification, standards, and so on also applies to platforms if the tasks they facilitate compare to activities in the traditional economy. Accordingly, platforms and their workers are subject to the same requirements as actors in the traditional economy and cannot outcompete them based on lower costs due to avoiding certain investments.

This clear sectoral attribution also allows trade unions or other representative organisations to give platform workers a collective voice and negotiate working conditions. This particularly benefits platform-determined workers in countries where their employment status has been established as employees.

Information obligations regarding tax and social insurance

The EU builds a framework to clarify platforms’ obligations to report information on workers’ earnings, for tax and social protection purposes. Implementation is left to the discretion of Member States: they decide which platforms should declare, the type of information required and the mechanisms for declaration. Most likely, this leads to a diversity of approaches across Member States.

From the perspective of platforms, this is an incentive to be active in those Member States in which requirements are less burdensome. From a state and societal perspective, stricter information obligations can contribute to reducing undeclared work and limiting state income loss due to the evasion of taxes and social insurance contributions.

Platform ownership and governance

The increasing demand for platform-mediated services attracts new actors to enter the platform economy. They look for innovative business models to attract workers, as demand for labour is high and supply is decreasing. This fosters the growth of new platform business models that are oriented towards creating stakeholder value rather than shareholder value.

Governments could provide services of public interest through such platform models, thereby creating employment as well as improving service provision, for example, in the areas of transport or care. This would be particularly useful in rural areas.

Platforms run as worker cooperatives are flourishing for worker-initiated platform work, so that workers can reap the benefits (for example, by investing the platform’s gains in joint training or marketing activities) rather than financing profit-oriented investors. Furthermore, this ‘networked self-employment’ might further foster entrepreneurial quality and cooperation due to enhanced exchange.

The remaining profit-oriented platforms improve their employment and working conditions to retain their workforce. This benefits platform-determined workers particularly, who tend to depend more on platforms than the worker-initiated workers.

Platform business model

Encouraged by these developments, the platform economy expands further, and online labour platforms will diversify their fields of activity. Platform-determined tasks expand beyond food delivery to the delivery of goods, including parcel and mail delivery; worker-initiated tasks are offered for additional types of household services, including care and personal services.

Consumers become more familiar with services mediated through platforms, resulting in increased acceptance and higher competition with similar services in the traditional economy.

Workers find more tasks on offer through platforms, hence increasing the potential to earn income through platform work; at the same time, jobs in the traditional economy might decrease due to the competition from platforms.

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