The switch to gig – Non-standard employment relationships

Article written by Lisa Azzopardi – Executive, EU Policy and Legislation, MEUSAC
Published on The Malta Business Weekly – 15.11.18

What springs to mind when one hears the word ‘gig’ is hardly the economy. Yet, ‘gig economy’ is the new buzzword in the global village as citizens book on-demand taxis on their mobile and have their dinners delivered on whizzing bicycles. Welcome to the era of the gig economy, where workers and customers meet in the hyper-networked marketplace.

Since industrialisation took over weaving, back in the early 18th century, there has been a persistent fear that “machines are coming to take our jobs” with the result that workers would be thrown out on the streets. This fear has been proved to have been overblown. Yet, digitalisation has indeed changed the way we lead our lives and, as a by-product, the way we work. Coupled with the influence of technology, demographic trends and migration have made it necessary to look beyond a 9 to 5 desk job. Hence, we can say that work and jobs have been detangled.

In one of the very first judgments of its kind, the crux of the matter before the Court of Justice of the European Union was whether Uber is a taxi service. The Court, in 2017, ruled that Uber is sufficiently like a taxi service that Member States can regulate it as such. The CJEU added: “As EU law currently stands, it is for the Member States to regulate the conditions under which such services are to be provided in conformity with the general rules of the treaty on the functioning of the EU.” In another judgment of the same year, the Court of Justice pronounced itself in the case of Conley King, a self-employed salesman for a window firm. In this case the Court decided that the right to paid annual leave was an “important principle of EU social law”, on the basis that King is still deemed a ‘worker’ in the traditional sense

The gig economy has its pros and cons. In essence, workers of the platform economy are paid per task completed rather than earning a pay cheque at the end of the month. The naysayers will argue whether we really want to move to having workers on tap; the erosion of hard-fought workers’ rights, and the instability that is inherent in this mode of working. On the other hand, working on a platform can be handy for new parents or those taking care of the elderly or disabled.

Even though social security rules fall under the realm of Member State governments, the European Commission has embarked on a drive to secure minimum out-of-work benefits and maternity cover for on-demand workers. The Commission reports that approximately 40% of Europeans form part of the atypical labour market and that the rates of participation are higher in Member States plagued with high youth unemployment. In his latest State of the Union address, President Jean-Claude Juncker emphasised that “I would like the European Union to take better care of its social dimension. Those that ignore the legitimate concerns of workers and small businesses undermine European unity”.

Moreover, the Employment Committee of the European Parliament (EP) advocated new rules on minimum rights for workers in on-demand jobs. While the EP noted that the collaborative economy is instrumental in an economic system due to its efficiency, social and environmental sustainability, workers should not be undermined. In tandem with the legislative chamber, the Council of the EU, under the Austrian Presidency, will continue building on the progress made by previous presidencies to negotiate the dossier on social protection for the self-employed and people in atypical employment forms, in order to ensure a well-functioning single market which benefits for everyone.

Algorithms may ensure giggers and jobs are well-matched. Yet, it is up to policy makers in the driving seat to ensure minimum rights for all involved. Learn more about what the European institutions do for you on workers’ rights and related policies by contacting us on info.meusac@gov.mt.

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