Platform work: Representation

06 September 2018

Platform work is a form of employment that uses an online platform to enable organisations or individuals to access other organisations or individuals to solve problems or to provide services in exchange for payment.

Representation

Representation of employees may be defined as the right of workers to seek a union or individual to represent them for the purpose of negotiating with management on issues as wages, hours, benefits and working conditions. In the workplace, workers may be represented by trade union or other representatives on disciplinary matters or to seek recourse, on works councils or other consultative bodies and for the collective bargaining of terms and conditions.

Employer organisations are bodies designed to organise and advance the collective interests that employers have in the labour market. The structure, membership basis and tasks of employer organisations differ widely across countries. Large companies especially are able to decide on what labour market interests they wish to pursue individually, and what interests they want to have represented by employer organisations.

Representation in platform work

As a new employment form in Europe, platform work challenges existing regulatory and institutional frameworks, including representation, industrial relations and social dialogue. As platform work raises concerns about the employment and working conditions of platform workers and potential (unfair) competitive advantages of platforms compared to ‘traditional’ businesses, social partners in several Member States of the European Union are getting engaged in the policy debate and initiatives that aim to safeguard well-functioning economic and labour market structures.

Increasingly, trade unions are becoming active in organising and representing platform workers. For example, on 1 August 2018, the first collective agreement on platform work in Denmark entered into force. This was arranged between the Danish trade union 3F and platform for cleaning services Hilfr, and will run as a pilot for 12 months. Further, media and literature report that in particular on-location platform-determined workers are increasingly represented by trade unions or via own initiatives. In several EU Member States, unions have supported food delivery bike couriers with setting up works councils (Austria and Germany) and organising protests and strikes (Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and many more).

Challenges for representation and organising of platform workers

In spite of these efforts, the majority of platform workers are not represented by traditional trade unions. This is partly due to many being self-employed, who are traditionally less often represented than employees. For those for whom platform work is an additional instead of a main job, workers may be represented through other means. Further, workers’ interest in representation in terms of negotiating working conditions as well as the potential to mobilise depends very much on the type of platform work. For example, Deliveroo riders may want to negotiate the wages determined by the platform and are highly visible to each other when they encounter each other in the street or wait for the next pick-up in a public space. In contrast, platform-based cleaners or handy-persons setting their own rates may be less interested in negotiating with the platform. Additionally, they have much less interpersonal contact with other workers and thus fewer opportunities for community building or mobilising.

Representation of platforms

Traditional bodies such as employer organisations are not very vocal in policy debate or in mobilising platforms to join their organisation. This is partly due to companies positing themselves as an intermediary service rather than as an employer per se. In a similar vein, these companies may be registered as affiliated with the IT sector, rather than with the sector of the services which they intermediate. Nevertheless, also in this context new bodies are emerging. For example, platform companies in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK have joined together in their respective countries in organisations such as SEDK (Sharing Economy Denmark), Sharing Economy Ireland, ShareNL and SEUK (Sharing Economy UK) which represent their business interests in the public and political sphere.

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