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By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission on Wednesday took a step towards improving the rights of gig economy workers with the launch of a public consultation to determine their legal employment status and how to improve their working conditions.
Lockdowns to contain the COVID-19 pandemic have increased demand for casual workers as food deliverers have hired drivers, while cleaners, needed to battle the spread of infection, have faced health and safety risks.
Courts and regulators have meanwhile sought to correct the shortcomings in the gig economy.
The UK Supreme Court ruled last week that Uber drivers are entitled to workers’ rights, such as the minimum wage, and a Spanish court said in September that riders for Barcelona-based food delivery app Glovo were employees, not freelancers.
The EU executive said it wants feedback from trade unions and employers’ groups during the six-week consultation. A subsequent consultation will look into the content of a possible law by the end of the year unless unions and employers decide to negotiate the issue themselves.
“There is no going back as to how things work. The platform economy is here to stay, new technology, new sources of knowledge, new forms of work will shape the world in the years ahead,” the Commission’s digital chief Margrethe Vestager told a news conference.
“These are new opportunities that must not come with different rights, online as well as offline. All people should be protected and allowed and enabled to work safely and with dignity,” she said.
The consultation listed seven areas for possible improvement – the employment status of gig workers, their working conditions, access to social protection, access to collective representation and bargaining, cross-border aspects, the companies’ use of algorithmic management and training and professional opportunities.
Uber said it would work with policymakers and social groups on the proposal.
“Any legislative initiative should be grounded in what platform workers value most – flexibility and control over their work, transparent and fair earnings, access to benefits and protections, and meaningful representation,” the company said in a statement.
Small companies lobbying group SME Connect urged the Commission to expand the consultation to other groups.
“Looking at these issues solely through the prism of employees/employers’ organisations risks a failure to account for these platforms and those who work on them,” its president Paul Rübig wrote in a letter to Vestager.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Barbara Lewis)