Platform work is an employment form 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 the concept, but the phenomenon has changed and now encompasses many more types of tasks. Accordingly, Eurofound has adopted the term ‘platform work’ in its 2018 publication Employment and working conditions of selected types of platform work. The main features of platform work are:
- 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.
Across the EU, many different terms are used to refer to platform-based activity. For example, the European Commission and Parliament often refer to the ‘sharing economy’ or ‘collaborative economy’. However, these terms comprise a broader scope of online activities, going beyond paid work to encompass the trade of material or capital goods as well as non-commercial activities.
Platform work may be delivered either online or locally (in person). The most common tasks performed include:
- professional tasks (for example, software development or graphic design)
- transport (for example, person transport or food delivery)
- household tasks (for example, cleaning)
- micro tasks (for example, tagging images on web pages).
Eurofound has identified 10 types of platform work that have reached some critical mass in Europe as regards the number of platforms and affiliated workers. The main differences between these types are in 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 client is matched to worker (offer of work versus competition) and the party that determines the work allocation. The 10 types are:
- local client-determined routine work (for example, when a client orders shipping services through Shiply)
- local platform-determined routine work (for example, when a platform like Foodora determines which bike courier will deliver a meal)
- local client-determined moderately skilled work (for example, when a client contacts a worker through Stootie to assemble their furniture)
- local worker-initiated moderately skilled work (for example, when a worker contacts a potential client through Listminut to cut their lawn)
- local client-determined expert (for example, when a client selects a worker through Appjobber to take pictures of a product in a local store)
- local platform-determined expert (for example, when the platform BeMyEyes selects a worker to (remotely) assist a visually impaired person)
- online moderately skilled click-work (for example, when a worker tags images on Figure Eight)
- online platform-determined expert (for example, when a platform like TestBirds sources software-testing tasks to a select group of workers)
- online client-determined specialist (for example, when clients advertise and select a worker on Freelancer for business assistance)
- online contestant specialist (for example, when a large brand selects one or several winners in a design competition on 99Designs).
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 (ETUC) has raised concerns over social protection, tax and labour laws. Moreover, the European Association of European Crafts and SMEs (UAPME) has expressed concern that traditional businesses will potentially face unfair competition from online platforms.
In most EU Member States, public and policy debate is driven by trade unions on the uncertain employment status of workers, working conditions and competition for traditional sectors. Across several Member States, trade unions have supported strikes and initiatives by platform workers. For the first time in April 2018, in Denmark, a collective agreement was signed between a trade union (3F) and platform operator (Hilfr). National employer groups are less active in the debate and mainly consider the potential of platform work to contribute positively to the economy. National governments are largely absent in public and policy debates, but some have commissioned studies to monitor developments in platform work, and a few government initiatives (for example, related to taxation) have also already been initiated.