Remarks by Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager on the first-stage consultation of European social partners on possible action addressing the challenges related to working conditions in platform work

“Check against delivery”

Today, we start the first phase consultation of social partners on how to improve the working conditions of people working through online platforms.

The pandemic has accelerated the expansion of platform business models. Many platforms play an instrumental role to help traditional business and workers to stay afloat during confinements. As an example, thousands of drivers or food delivery couriers keep going out so that we can stay in. 

In Europe around 24 million people or just above 10% of the EU’s workforce are estimated to have provided services through online labour platforms at least once. Most of them only have platform work as a secondary or a marginal source of income but around 3 million people do it as a main job.

We also see that the platform economy is growing rapidly. Worldwide, the online labour platform market has grown by 30% over a period of 2 years. This growth is expected to continue and the number of people working through platforms is expected to become more significant in the years ahead.

Across Europe, people who work through platforms risk being left without an income and they are not always eligible for national support measures during lockdowns. And even those who have work – like the couriers or the drivers – they sometimes have poor working conditions with long hour shifts and little or no social protection in case they would fall ill. And no pension schemes and no access to training and skills development.

These issues have to be addressed, and the pandemic made it even more apparent.  Precarious work conditions may lead to even more vulnerability in difficult times.

Way beyond Covid, platform work is here to stay. So it is important to see how we secure a sustainable model for this new type of work.

The process we start today is a two-phased consultation to get the valuable input of social partners and this first stage will run for six weeks. Our second stage is planned to take place before the summer.

Our first consultation will look at the challenges. We ask social partners if they agree with the areas of challenge that we have identified. Nicolas will take you through these areas in a moment.

The second phase of our consultation will focus on the content of the initiative. The key issue in our consultations is to find a balance between making the most of the opportunities of the platform economy and ensuring that the social rights of people working in it are the same as in the traditional economy. It is also a matter of a fair competition and level playing field between platforms and traditional companies that have higher labour costs because they are subject to traditional labour laws.

European values are at the heart of our work to shape Europe’s digital future. Our proposals from December for a Digital Services Act and a Digital Markets Act are meant to protect us as consumers if technology poses a risk to fundamental rights. In April we will follow up on our white paper on Artificial Intelligence from last year and our upcoming proposal will also have the aim to protect us as citizens. The fairness aspect and the integration of European values will also be a driver for our upcoming proposal on a digital tax that we plan to present before summer.

All these initiatives are part of our ambition to balance the great potential that the digital transformation holds for our societies and economies.

In parallel we have launched a process to ensure that EU competition rules do not stand in the way of collective bargaining for those who need it. We will soon start a public consultation on this initiative that has another legal base since it is about competition law and not social policies. This is the reason why we consult differently on the two initiatives.

In a recent study, 35 to 55% of consumers say they intend to continue to ask for home delivery more in the future. I think this is at least a clear indication of at least one thing: there is no going back to how things were. The platform economy is here to stay – new technologies, new sources of knowledge, new forms of work will shape the world in the years ahead. And for all of our work on the digital economy, these new opportunities must not come with different rights. Online just as offline, all people should be protected and allowed to work safely and with dignity.