30.06.2022

Work ahead: labour in the platform economy

On June 14, we presented our project “Mapping Platform Economy” and discussed in Brussels with experts the future of labour in the platform economy.

Together with the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and in cooperation with the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), FES Future of Work organised the policy conference “Work ahead: labour in the platform economy”  in Brussels. First of all, the event was an opportunity to gather stakeholders around a discussion on the legislative process to improve the conditions of workers in digital labour platforms and the employment aspects of the AI Act.

Secondly, it was an occasion to look ahead: the platform economy is a harbinger of changes that increasingly affects all workers; from stagnating wages and the fragmentation of labour to the increasing use digital tools for surveillance. What are elements of a progressive agenda to address these challenges?

And thirdly, it was an occasion to present the results of the international research project "Mapping Platform Economy"  that aims to capture the existing platform economy landscape in over 30 countries in Europe. Matthias Weber, Director of FES Future of Work, pointed out that “this event is the culmination of one year´s work from our side on the platform economy”. The outputs are mappings of several regulatory aspects of platform work at the national level, country factsheets on online platforms and platform work and a project report.

 

Keynote

Digital Platforms, how they are overtaking the state and how we can regain control was also the topic of the keynote speech by  Vili Lehdonvirta  of the University of Oxford. He explained the challenges for labour in the digital economy such as the gaps between different national legal systems and between legal systems and undocumented people. Lehdonvirta claimed that the group of people working and producing value on these platforms (e.g., Youtubers, Merchants or App developers) are beginning to realise that the only way to stay at level with autocratic platforms is collective action. Find more information here.

 

Thematic roundtables

After these inspiring words, the debate continued in three thematic roundtables, organised by FEPS, ETUC and FES Future of Work. In the first roundtable the participants discussed with Jeremias Adams-Prassl, University of Oxford  and Joanna Bronowicka, European University Viadrina  the question “Slave to the algorithm? Strategies to empower labour in the digital workplace”. The discussants agreed that strong regulation of platform work is necessary and the AI Act, proposed by the European Commission, can only be a first step.

The second roundtable was on “Employers without obligations? Let’s not give Uber (and others) an easy ride!”. The input speakers were Lorenza Antonucci, GIGWELL and Sacha Garben, College of Europe. Antonucci  explained that digital labour platforms are successful because they keep fixed costs low by letting workers paying them. Therefore, the EU directive has to restore basic workers’ rights for platform workers. Furthermore, in order to achieve change for workers, it is important that the debate on fair platform work takes also place across the EU and at the workplace – and not only in Brussels.

In the third roundtable, the participants discussed the topic “Who are the platform workers? Role of migration and gender” with Agnieszka Piasna, ETUI  and Niels van Doorn, University of Amsterdam. One outcome was that in addressing the precarity of platform work and building successful strategies to strengthen social dialogue, the interests and needs of women and/or migrants should be addressed at the policy level by looking at platform work through an intersectionality-based approach.

 

Plenary session

The results of the roundtable discussions were presented in the concluding plenary session with Brando Benifei, Member of the European Parliament for the S&D group and László Andor, secretary general of FEPS. They discussed how to regulate AI in order to make it trustworthy for workers and to avoid exploitation and surveillance. “EU legislation has done a good job of protecting the rights of consumers, but not workers. AI brings vulnerabilities for workers that need to be tackled",  Andor pointed out.

It was the first in-person meeting organised by FES Future of Work. We are glad that we were able to bring together over 70 stakeholders of platform work in Brussels to discuss labour in the platform economy. A debate that needs to be continued with progressive approaches! At this point, thank you to all participants and speakers and to FEPS and ETUC for their support.

Impressions of the conference

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