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At long last, EU countries adopt the platform work directive

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EU countries finally adopted the platform work directive at a meeting of the bloc’s labour ministers on Monday (11 March), after Estonia and Greece, which had abstained in the past, voted in favour “in the spirit of compromise”.

The last-minute change of heart by Tallinn and Athens broke a blocking minority they had previously formed with Germany and France, and enabled the file –  aimed at regulating the growing gig economy and giving employment rights to several million workers in the EU – to go through.

“This is a momentous day for gig workers,” Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, in charge of the file, said after the vote.

The directive now needs to be formally ratified in the Council and the European Parliament plenary – which should not cause any issues. Countries will then have two years to integrate the piece of legislation into their own national systems.

Spirit of compromise

Until Greek and Estonian ministers took the floor at Monday’s meeting, it was impossible to tell where their votes would land. Both countries had been vocal sceptics of the last version of the file, citing legal uncertainty and clashes with their own national labour laws.

They had abstained twice, alongside France and Germany, at separate meetings of EU ambassadors in the past month – forming a blocking minority together and raising fears in Brussels that the file would never see the light of day.

But “in the spirit of compromise”, and aware that the ministerial meeting, in the words of the Belgian EU Council Presidency, was “decisive” for any text to be agreed, Estonia and Greece changed their votes at the very last moment – paving the way for the final adoption of the directive.

“Thank you for the last-minute surprises,” Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne said after the vote as ministers clapped and cheered.

Franco-German isolation

In more than two years of negotiations, the platform work directive – the first ever proposal by the EU to regulate the gig economy across the bloc – had turned into one of the most contentious EU files.

Negotiators from the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Council of the EU agreed a watered-down version of the directive in early February – which the member states voted down twice in the past month as Paris, Tallinn, Athens, and Berlin opposed it.

Adding a further twist ahead of another negative vote of EU ambassadors last Friday (8 March), France sowed disarray by circulating a set of changes it wanted to make to the text, ultimately creating a significant carve-out to the application of the directive’s key new mechanism, the legal presumption of employment.

This novel mechanism initially looked to harmonise reclassification processes through which self-employed platform workers could become full-time employees, with all accompanying rights, if a subordinate relationship with the platform was established.

Under the February provisional agreement, however, criteria to be used to indicate subordination were deleted from the text, and member states were only obliged to create a presumption of employment in their national systems so that its implementation would make it easier for workers to be considered for reclassification than the status quo.

On Monday, Germany abstained due to domestic coalition infighting. France, meanwhile, said it would withhold its vote until further legal clarifications were provided by the Commission – but other sceptical countries did not follow suit, leaving the EU’s two largest countries isolated.

The adopted file also contains a chapter on algorithmic management in the workplace which enshrines a complete prohibition on the processing of certain sets of data, including psychological state, religious affiliation, or sexuality, but also private conversations or any information outside of the person’s platform work activity.

With regards to important decisions influenced or taken by an algorithm, such as remuneration, account suspension or dismissal, the text does go beyond what the EU’s data privacy law, the GDPR, provides for. The deal makes explicitly clear that such decisions shall always be taken by a human being.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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