The collaborative economy is defined by the European Commission in its June 2016 communication, A European agenda for the collaborative economy, as ‘business models where activities are facilitated by collaborative platforms that create an open marketplace for the temporary usage of goods or services often provided by private individuals’. It goes on to say that the collaborative economy involves three categories of actors:
- service providers who share assets, resources, time and/or skills – these can be private individuals offering services on an occasional basis or service providers acting in their professional capacity;
- users of these services;
- intermediaries that connect providers with users through an online platform and that facilitate transactions between them.
Collaborative economy transactions generally do not involve a change of ownership and can be carried out on a for-profit or not-for-profit basis.
According to the Commission, a collaborative economy has the potential to create new employment opportunities, boost flexible working arrangements and create new sources of income. The collaborative economy could generate income beyond traditional linear employment relationships and enable individuals to work more flexibly. However, the Commission cautions that as more flexible working arrangements are often less regular and stable than traditional employment relations, this could create uncertainty about the rights and level of social protection to which workers are entitled. This is because working arrangements in the context of the collaborative economy are often based on individual tasks performed on an ad hoc basis, rather than in a pre-defined environment and time frame.
The Commission concludes by stating that ‘in view of the significant benefits that new collaborative economy business models can bring, Europe should be open to embracing these new opportunities’. While the EU should proactively support the innovation, competitiveness and growth opportunities inherent in such an activity, the Commission believes that it is important to ensure fair working conditions and adequate and sustainable consumer and social protection, and that citizens and businesses should be aware of the rules and obligations applying to them.
For trade unions, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) presented its position on the single market strategy for Europe in December 2015, challenging the assumptions that the collaborative economy increases employment and benefits workers. ETUC believes that the current state of the economy, the increase of precarious and low paid jobs and high levels of unemployment are contributory factors to the growth of the collaborative economy. The union wants employment regulation and social security cover to apply to workers in collaborative economy services, and believes that particular attention must be paid to the problem of bogus self-employment and undeclared work.
For employers, BusinessEurope stated in a position paper issued in January 2016 that it firmly believes the collaborative economy ‘could offer new opportunities for innovative business models, that it can enable operators to provide services in an innovative way and can also foster entrepreneurship through the establishment of partnerships between big corporations and start-ups’.
BusinessEurope also believes that developments in the collaborative economy can lead to the adoption of flexible forms of employment for workers (especially for women, young people or people outside the standard job market) that may otherwise not be available to them. However, it states that these new business models could undermine the level playing field between new and traditional business models providing similar services under a different regulatory framework, and should therefore be carefully monitored.