Challenges and Uncertainties Surrounding the Platform Work Directive

by: in Law
Food delivery

Efforts to improve the working conditions of platform workers within the European Union faced a major setback as a group of Member States declined to support the latest deal on the Platform Work Directive last month. As discussions continue, the timing of the impasse raises concerns about the future of the Directive, given the looming European Parliament elections on the horizon. The fate of the Platform Work Directive remains uncertain, leaving millions of EU platform workers in a state of legal uncertainty.

Labour platform work

Labour Platform work refers to the work performed on demand and for remuneration by people working through digital labour platforms. It has become an important element of the social and economic landscape globally. During the COVID-19 pandemic, labour platform work gathered pace and started to go mainstream, partly thanks to an increase in food and grocery deliveries. 

Employed or self-employed?

While the growth of labour platforms has brought advantages to both businesses and consumers, it has led to the development of a ‘grey area’ for many platform workers when it comes to their employment status.​ The majority of the EU's platform workers, including taxi drivers and food delivery couriers, are officially designated as self-employed. This practice is commonly adopted by platforms to circumvent the costs associated with traditional employment. However, when these workers are subjected to the same constraints as traditional employees, this may indicate that they are in an employment relationship and should therefore enjoy the labour rights and social protection under both national and EU law.

Platform Work Directive

On 9 December 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal for a Directive on the Improvement of Working Conditions in Platform Work (Platform Work Directive). The objective of the Platform Work Directive is to enhance the working conditions of those employed through digital labour platforms, specifically by ensuring the correct determination of the employment status.

Over the past two years, discussions have revolved around the need for Member States to have appropriate procedures in place to prevent and address misclassification of the employment status of persons performing platform work. 

On 13 December 2023, the Council and the European Parliament reached a provisional agreement on the proposed Directive. Among other things, the deal eased the way for platform workers to be reclassified as employees, guaranteeing easier access to their rights as employees. The new deal stipulated that if platform workers fulfil two out of five ‘indicators of control or direction’, it would be presumed that they are employees.

On 22 December 2023, the Spanish presidency concluded that the necessary qualified majority on the deal among Member States representatives (COREPER) could not be reached. 

The Belgian presidency resumed the negotiations with the European Parliament and a new compromise text was proposed on 8 February of this year. The new version no longer permitted a presumption of employment on the basis of criteria, harmonised at EU level. Instead, each Member State would have to establish its own refutable legal presumption of employment at national level. Despite its less prescriptive approach, the compromise text was rejected last month, on 16 February.  

It marks a sad end to the European Commission’s term. The compromise text was seen as the last chance to push the Platform Work Directive through before the European Parliament elections in June. The fate of the Platform Work Directive remains uncertain. In the absence of EU-level (harmonised) interventions, many EU platform workers continue to experience precarious working conditions. It is crucial to steer clear of such a bleak prospect.