Post-COVID-19: A critical moment for regulating platform labour in Romania?

by Delia Badoi, Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Internet Studies, Germany

5 min read

“Maybe it is not the routine that others have – when you get to the office at 8 a.m. to work, you have to do your job, you leave and you come back the next day”. A food delivery worker appreciated the flexibility and the lack of routine that the Glovo platform offered him. Since 2016, digital labour platform has become an emerging phenomenon in everyday life in Romania. The COVID-19 crisis has brought platforms such as Uber, Glovo, Food Panda, Bolt Food, Bolt and Tazz by Emag and their working conditions to public attention when job instability has become particularly severe in this country. The low wage level made the precarious situation of platform workers more resilient once the companies accelerated their digitalisation to respond to increased demand for home deliveries. Whether it is the delivery service, an online micro-work activity or a taxi service such as Uber or Bolt, many traditional labour companies moved to apps by providing an easily accessible infrastructure for selling their services. A food delivery worker from Food Panda mentioned that he searched for a job because there were no other working options during the pandemic. This situation pushed him to deliver food in exchange for a weekly cash income. The COVID-19 crisis was an opportunity for labour platforms to expand in more than 75 Romanian cities by connecting on-demand and on-location services (care, cleaning, food, taxi, click-work) to their clients and the workers searching for small jobs– typically self-employed workers.

Romania thus plays an important role in the cheap labour platform. The local labour market became more stratified and tied to migrant and low-skilled routes. Romania is now a target country for immigrants from South Asia to get one-year visa (and extension) to work in the sectors currently uncovered by workforce supply: food delivery, hospitality, restaurants and hotels, cleaning and construction. Local platforms (mainly food delivery) offer precarious jobs with promising spatiotemporal flexibility, fast employment and less paperwork, weekly cash income and autonomy to organise working hours. Due to their easy accessibility and user-friendly apps, the labour platforms represent one of the entry points in the local labour market by providing a minimum income and a mobile lifestyle for migrant workers. Yet, unlike other European countries like Spain, France or Italy, the platforms are still not facing any legal regulations in Romania. Except for the classification as an online intermediary service for taxi drivers (OUG 49/2019), the platforms operate within the traditional labour code legislation. In this chain of intermediation by local companies registered in Romania, platform workers are employed through intermediate companies (fleets) that provide contractual services to the platforms.

In Bucharest, Cluj-Napoca or Constanta, the migrant food-delivery workers are the only bike riders to be seen on the empty streets during the extreme weather in the summer, when it rains or during the heavy winter. Some people call them ‘ghost workers’. The current situation presents itself as an unequal balance between the migrant food-delivery workers who cannot refuse work and the platforms being dependent on their cheap labour by profiting from the still-increased demand for home deliveries. With the non-EU migrant status, the migrants face particular risks related to their employment status and career prospects. For the self-employees, it is even unclear how the national labour law or the current EU regulations on platform work apply to them. The South Asia workers don’t speak Romanian or English. They become dependent on the platforms available in multilanguage. The migrant’s situation remains unexplored in Romania and it is necessary to carry out more studies regarding platform work that can bring information about the size of the phenomenon and also about working conditions.

The new Directive on improving working conditions in platform work, adopted in 2024, can bring to light the grey areas that require attention from EU policymakers. These areas include ensuring a stable income, social insurance coverage, and safety measures for workers involved in platform labour, especially vulnerable groups such as migrants and women. While the EU regulatory framework has been established, the question remains whether it will translate into stronger social protections and labour regulations for vulnerable workers in Romania, particularly non-EU workers engaged in platform labour. Romania must follow the contours of emerging debate surrounding employment on digital labour platforms and address the loopholes in current and future labour legislation to highlight the concerns about the legitimacy of platform labour regulation.

About the Author

Dr. Delia Badoi (Ph.D., Ecole des hautes etudies en sciences sociales, Paris, France, 2015) is a Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Internet Studies, Germanyand aSenior Researcher at the Research Institute for Quality of Life, Romania. Her research focuses on the field of global labour studies, gendered employment, politics of new technology at work, platform economy and precarious working conditions. She has collaborated in previous research projects with the Competence Centre on the Future of Work, Brussels, Belgium (2022), the Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels, Belgium (2019); Research Institute for Work and Society, KU Leuven, Belgium (2018) and GESIS – Leibniz Institute for Social Sciences, Cologne, Germany (2019).

Technology, Employment and Wellbeing is a new FES blog that offers original insights on the ways new technologies impact the world of work. The blog focuses on bringing different views from tech practitioners, academic researchers, trade union representatives and policy makers.

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