De Croo struggles to broker agreement on status of platform workers

De Croo struggles to broker agreement on status of platform workers
© Belga

Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo is hoping to reach an agreement on a labour deal this month, but parties are diametrically opposed when it comes to a statute for platform workers like Deliveroo couriers.

At the beginning of budget talks, it was agreed that ‘a consultation will be started in order to offer good working conditions and better protection to people who are structurally active in this field,’ De Standaard reports, but consensus has been hard to come by.

The European Commission proposed a directive whereby platform workers would automatically be considered employees unless they can explicitly demonstrate that they are self-employed.

Because it could be months before that manifests in Member States, Belgium’s PS party wants to better protect platform workers such as Deliveroo couriers or Uber drivers by granting them employee status more quickly.

The Greens agree, but MR is opposed, saying that such a proposal could cause the platforms to disappear, just as Deliveroo left Spain when new legislation required them to provide social benefits to the workers on the platform.

Deliveroo says its couriers prefer to remain independent

Deliveroo said its couriers should have a say in any legislation regarding their employment status.

“The opinion of couriers is essential in the development of the new bill because they will be the first ones to be affected,” Rodolphe Van Nuffel, Deliveroo spokesperson, told The Brussels Times.

© Carll Campbell/Unsplash

They conducted a survey of their couriers in which 77% of the 650 respondents said they’d prefer to remain self-employed, and 40% said they’d stop working if they were classified as employees.

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“It is time for the government to realize the paramount importance of including couriers in the debate and listening to them,” Van Nuffel said.

“We are concerned that in the absence of consultation, this project does not respond at all to the reality on the field and to the expectations of couriers, namely a flexible and secure work, in a stable legal framework. To presume that couriers all want to become employees is a biased and erroneous assumption.”

Government blames ‘ministerial absences’ for lack of labour package

“[Today’s] deal is really nothing more than a translation of what was agreed in October at the budget make-up,” the De Croo government said in regards to the package currently before parliament.

“Last week, the core cabinet had the ambition to conclude it, but the dossier did not make it onto the agenda. It will not make it this week either, partly due to ministerial absences.”

A Deliveroo courier in Belgium is classified as self-employed and not entitled to most labour protections. Photo by Helen Lyons/The Brussels Times.

But a greater concern than ministerial absences is the fact that there’s still little common ground on platform workers even after the bilateral talks that De Croo has been holding for some time, which is delaying the labour package as a whole.

“We have been waiting since October last year for measures to put the labour market on a modern footing,” said Pieter Timmermans, managing director of employers' organisation VBO.

“Make haste. I do not understand why the discussion about the platform economy is linked to all the other measures.”

The government hopes to close the deal next week or by the end of the month at the latest, because March will be dominated by legislation regarding pensions, the nuclear exit and the budget control.

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