Digital platforms - challenges for labour inspectors and the European Labour Authority
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Digital platforms - challenges for labour inspectors and the European Labour Authority

Digital labour platforms have managed to take root in our reality, but in many cases they continue to infringe the rights of platform workers. This is indicated by the results of inspections carried out in France, Spain, Poland and Italy. The challenges for labour law enforcement institutions involved were discussed by labour inspectors and a representative of the European Labour Office at a webinar organised in April as part of the project 'Don't GIG Up. Never!" 

Although the share of digital platforms in the labour market is still not big, their modus operandi affects non-negligible groups of workers. Aiming to minimise costs, platforms avoid entering into employment contracts, even if  the relationship between the platform and the worker is actually the one of employment. In Spain, every year numerous cases of bogus self-employment of platform workers are detected as a result of labour inspection activities. According to the data cited by Spanish labour inspector Juan Grangel, 20,000 bogus self-employed workers had their status regularised in the country in 2019 and as many as 40,000 in 2022. Abuses involving  bogus self-employment have also been recorded by French inspectors who have carried out inspections at the request of the public prosecutor's office, as reported by Dominique Vandroz, labour inspector and deputy director for labour, employment and solidarity of the Rhône Department. Last year in France, a court imposed a fine of €375,000 on the Deliveroo platform and a 12-month suspended sentence on the persons who were responsible for such practices. And in Spain, multi-million euro fines were imposed on the Glovo platform for failures to report workers ('bogus self-employed') to the social security system and for illegally employing foreigners. 

In Poland, platform work is extremely rarely based on an employment contract; it is usually provided under civil law contracts (including self-employment). Issues of concern in this respect are compensation for time spent preparing for work, compensation for being on standby, occupational health and safety issues, and the sudden deprivation of work (by disconnecting the employee from the application). The main problems reported by platform workers are related to the enforcement of the minimum wage. Mr Bartosz Kopeć, Deputy Director of the Legal Department at the Chief Labour Inspectorate, also referred to the cases of platform denying employment relationship by concluding equipment leasing agreements (serving as the basis for remuneration). Polish inspectors also found cases of the illegal employment of foreigners. In Poland, the labour inspectorate does not have the power to change the form of the contract between the platform and the worker into an employment contract, but the relevant decision can be made by the court, which settles the case and decides on possible sanctions.

Labour inspectors in different countries have taken various measures to increase their effectiveness. In Spain, the uniform approach in inspection activities was based on the findings of an inspection in a selected area, which preceded the development of guidelines for all inspectorates in the country. Inspectors act quickly, but platforms also change very fast, given the length of proceedings. In France, the legal proceedings against the Deliveroo platform are still not over, as it has filed an appeal. Juan Grangel pointed out that in Spain it is difficult for the courts to analyse cases of irregularities because they involve a huge number of people. Bartosz Kopeć, in turn, mentioned the challenge of regulatory shortcomings. In Poland, for example, it would be useful to change the legislation to allow for the automatic regulation (change) of the contractual relationship into the one of employment, as well as the recognition of platforms not registered in the country as employers in Poland. 

Digital platforms registered in one country can operate and employ workers in many other countries. This is reminiscent of the situation of cross-border labour mobility (rather than the workers themselves), hence the regulatory solutions should be transnational and thus platform workers are of interest to the European Labour Office (ELA), which deals with the transnational dimension of labour. According to Spanish ELA liaison officer Javier Suquía, the expected directive - as a transnational regulation - is an opportunity to provide solutions to the problems diagnosed. 

The ELA does not itself carry out inspections, but it can coordinate the joint activities of national inspectorates to ensure their consistency and strengthen the effectiveness and speed of enforcement. In this context, Javier Suquía stressed the need for appropriate guidelines and manuals, as well as training and bilateral cooperation, and also the need to anticipate developments in working conditions and social protection with respect to platform workers.

It is at the EU level that solutions should be sought, stressed Michele Faioli of the Giacomo Brodolini Foundation in concluding the discussion. And European trade union involvement is necessary.

The webinar was organised by the Spanish trade union UGT and the Giacomo Brodolini Foundation from Italy. It was the second in a series of meetings on digital labour platforms organised as part of a project co-financed by the European Commission entitled "Don't GIG Up. Never!". The project is implemented by an international partnership with  the Institute of Public Affairs as one of the partners. The recording of the previous meeting devoted to labour platform business models  is available HERE

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