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From 6 January to 3 February 2021, the European Commission is holding a consultation on the right to collective representation for self-employed workers. Open to allcomers, the aim of this initiative is to provide legal guarantees to any agreements concluded between self-employed workers and the platforms they work for. The contributions from self-employed workers, social partners, SMEs and national regulatory bodies will be made public with a view to adopting new legislation in this field.

The outcome of this consultation is expected to benefit platform workers in particular, for instance Uber drivers or Deliveroo couriers. Although deemed to be self-employed, platform workers are often subject to the same relationship of subordination as that binding any employee to his/her employer. This employment status ambiguity has given rise to several court cases in Europe, reflecting the difficulty in interpreting social legislation in the face of new business models. The platforms are seeking to conclude agreements granting certain advantages to their workers in an attempt to avoid stricter regulations forcing them to give their workers employee status. As things stand, any collective agreement could be considered illegal due to legal fuzziness. The recent Frouin report on regulating platform work in France stated that legal certainty for collective agreements was a prerequisite for any collective bargaining.

The public consultation will look at four options. The first would be to limit access to collective bargaining to platform workers, as they are the ones considered to be self-employed even though their pay is set by the platforms. The second would be to extend this right to all solo self-employed providing their own labour through digital labour platforms or to professional customers of a certain minimum size, insofar as they are not already covered by other specific competition law provisions included in sectoral instruments, such as those governing the production or sale of agricultural produce. The third would offer this right to all solo self-employed not exercising regulated/liberal professions   The fourth and final option would be to apply the right to collective bargaining to all self-employed workers, regardless of their sector and their customers' profile.

This new right opens the door to improvements in terms of working conditions, pay, access to social protection and autonomy in the choice of tasks and working time – sources of stress for platform workers. According to Pierre Bérastégui, researcher at the European Trade Union Institute and author of this report, “there is an urgent need to re-establish the balance between the job demands placed upon workers and the resources available to deal with them. The creation of conditions favouring collective bargaining is a step in the right direction”.

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Photo credits: Vex Collective