EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Platform work

Definition

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. Previously, Eurofound used the term ‘crowd employment’ to capture the click-work originally associated with the concept, but the phenomenon has changed and now encompasses many more types of tasks. Accordingly, Eurofound has adopted the term ‘platform work’, first mentioned in a report published in 2018.

In 2021, the European Commission launched a proposal for a directive on improving working conditions in platform work. In this legislative proposal, the following definition of ‘digital labour platform’ is given (Article 2(1)):

‘Digital labour platform’ means any natural or legal person providing a commercial service which meets all of the following requirements:
(a) it is provided, at least in part, at a distance through electronic means, such as a website or a mobile application;
(b) it is provided at the request of a recipient of the service;
(c) it involves, as a necessary and essential component, the organisation of work performed by individuals, irrespective of whether that work is performed online or in a certain location

In addition, for the purpose of the proposed directive, ‘“platform worker” means any person performing platform work who has an employment contract or employment relationship as defined by the law, collective agreements or practice in force in the Member States with consideration to the case-law of the Court of Justice’ (Article 2(4)).

Current status

The main features of platform work are as follows:

  • paid work is organised through online platforms
  • three parties are involved: the online platform, the worker and the client
  • work is contracted out
  • jobs are broken down into tasks
  • services are provided on demand

Main tasks

Platform work may be delivered either online or on location (in person). The most common tasks performed include:

  • professional tasks (for example, software development or graphic design)
  • transport (for example, transporting people or food delivery)
  • household tasks (for example, cleaning)
  • microtasks (for example, tagging images on web pages)

Eurofound has identified 10 types of platform work that have reached a critical number of platforms and affiliated workers in Europe. The main differences between these types are the scale of tasks, the format of service provision (whether the tasks are delivered locally or online), the level of skills required, the process by which clients are matched with workers (offer of work versus competition) and the party that determines the work allocation.

Social partners’ views and reactions

At European level, the employer group BusinessEurope has expressed a positive view of the potential of online platforms to contribute to business formation and job growth. Conversely, the European Trade Union Confederation has raised concerns over social protection, tax and labour laws. Moreover, the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises has expressed concern that traditional businesses will potentially face unfair competition from online platforms.

Regulatory aspects

Proposal for a directive

On 9 December 2021, the European Commission proposed a directive that, first, establishes a presumption of employment for digital platform workers who meet certain criteria demonstrating a relationship of subordination, and, second, grants platform workers new ‘digital rights’ in relation to algorithmic management, which apply both to employees and to self-employed workers. In fact, the Commission published three texts: (1) a communication setting out the EU approach to and measures associated with platform work; (2) draft guidelines clarifying the application of EU competition law to collective agreements negotiated by solo self-employed people; and (3) a proposal for a directive that provides for measures enabling the employment status of digital platform workers to be correctly determined.

Criteria for determining if the platform is an employer

The proposal for a directive lists five criteria to be used for determining if the platform is an employer, for example, setting the level of remuneration, supervising the performance of work or verifying the quality of the results of the work, including electronically. If the platform meets at least two of these five criteria, the legal presumption will be that it is an employer and it will have to treat the workers in question as employees. If the platform disputes this classification, it will have to prove that there is no employment relationship. However, the criteria will make it much easier for workers who apply for their employment status to be reclassified to be recognised as employees. The directive also enhances transparency in the use of algorithms by platforms. It states that platforms must not use ‘automated monitoring and decision-making systems in any manner that puts undue pressure on platform workers or otherwise puts at risk the physical and mental health of platform workers’. Furthermore, in cases where decisions go against the worker, for example resulting in their disconnection from the platform, the platform must provide workers ‘with access to a contact person designated … to discuss and to clarify the facts, circumstances and reasons having led to the decision’. This decision can be challenged. Platforms will also have to inform and consult workers and their representatives on algorithmic management decisions.

Related dictionary terms

Casual worker collective bargaining and competition law crowd employment fragmentation of the labour force gig economy new forms of employment quality of work self-employed person

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