A Digital Labour Platform as a Cooperative? Yes, It's Already Happening

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A Digital Labour Platform as a Cooperative? Yes, It's Already Happening

Platform work is tempting with its flexible schedules and the possibility of quick earnings without commitments and prior experience record. However, this form of employment is a new challenge for legislators, labour inspectorates and workers' organisations. European Union countries are attempting to regulate work carried out using apps, but national laws do not always keep up with the developments introduced by multinational corporations controlling a significant part of labour platform market. At the same time, new operating models are emerging to better protect workers' interests. The first digital labour platform that is a cooperative was set up by delivery couriers in France. Now such a model is also being used by free-lancer professions in France and Italy. This is what, the panellists of the Warsaw webinar on platform work discussed, among other issues.

The webinar 'Labour platform business models and their impact on worker rights and activities of trade unions' was held on 2 March 2023 in hybrid form (in Warsaw and on-line) and consisted of three parts: 
●  An overview of labour platforms' business models per application.
● A panel discussion on workerr rights and activities of trade union activities in the platform environment.
● A Q&A session 
The event was organised by the Institute of Public Affairs and the Giacomo Brodolini Foundation, and moderated by Thomas Haipeter of the University of Duisburg-Essen.

The first speaker, Michał Lewandowski from the Confederation of Labour, talked about app-based work in Polish social and legal conditions. Poland has seen the first trade union of platform workers formed by employees working for Takeaway.com Express Poland and Trenkwalder&Partner operating in our country as the Pyszne.pl brand. The trade union is pushing for pay rises for Pyszne.pl workers and changing an employment status of platform workers so they can enjoy the worker rights as secured by the employment contract. The speaker expressed high hopes regarding the EU directive that is to regulate the situation of platform workers in all Member States.

In Spain, an attempt has been made to regulate work provided via digital platforms with the introduction of a 'rider law'. The courier companies most affected by the law have responded to the new law in different ways and not all have adapted quickly to the new legal conditions. Companies such as Glovo have attempted to circumvent the legislation and maintain the bogus self-employment of the couriers working for them. Spanish authorities have consistently pursued such cases without waiting for EU regulations. The situation in Spain was described by Luis Pérez of the UGT (General Workers' Union).

Despite the problems referred to by the preceding speakers, platform work also remains an opportunity to build new worker-friendly forms of employment, as discussed by Francesca Martinelli of the Italian cooperative Doc Servizi. This is a platform which brokers jobs for artists and other entertainment workers. The cooperative model it uses retains the flexibility of employment typical of artists, but also provides for labour rights, which self-employment does not secure. 

The final panellist, Sylvain Le Bon, talked about the operating model of the HUBL network of freelancers who have created their own digital platform in France. Being a freelancer himself, Sylvian Le Bon also presented the advantages of platform work for people who want to remain autonomous. In the case described, the HUBL community has been mainly concerned with their client base and securing freelancers’ interests in crisis situations. According to the speaker, the most important advantage of such applications is their decentralisation. The market for platform work is monopolised in many sectors and the financial entry threshold to realistically compete with the giants is very high. Legislation should therefore address the market competition and not allow the emergence of monopolies which, unlike bottom-up networks, base their profits on the exploitation of workers.

In the Q&A session, an important issue arose as to whether each platform would benefit from the new EU regulations. Not everyone working through an app wants to be employed as a contract employee. In some cases, self-employment is beneficial, as Sylvian Le Bon discussed. Michał Lewandowski, on the other hand, referring to the Polish reality, argued that the situation of qualified employees working in the liberal professions is different from that of people who are fictitiously self-employed, for example as couriers. 

The question arose as to how to reconcile the differences between the cooperative platforms of Western Europe and the large international platforms, as referred to by Michał Lewandowski.  How far one should go with transforming the status of platform users into employees, so as not to harm the users themselves? On the one hand, it is necessary to take into account the preferences of the employees, for whom it may be profitable to work on a basis other than an employment contract, and on the other hand, the interest of the society, including the fulfilment of tax obligations and fairness in the labour market. It is also important to bear in mind that, in addition to digital platforms giving access to work, there are sales platforms such as Amazon and Airbnb whose users do not seek employment there.

Recording is available HERE

The webinar was organised as part of the project Don't GIG Up. Never! co-funded by the European Union.

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