Platform workers interrupt meeting in European Parliament on digital platform economy

Platform workers interrupt meeting in European Parliament on digital platform economy
Credit: European Parliament.

The proposal for a directive on digital platform workers continues to stir up emotions in the European Parliament ahead of the final vote and the discussions between the EU institutions.

As previously reported by The Brussels Times, the European Commission proposed in December last year a set of measures to improve the working conditions in platform work and to support the sustainable growth of digital labour platforms in the EU.

Instead of letting platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo designate the workers who work for them as “independent contractors” - a status that deprives them of social rights and benefits that come with traditional employment - they will be presumed to be regular employees on certain conditions in a new EU directive on improving working conditions in platform work.

According to the Commission, over 28 million people in the EU work through digital labour platforms. In 2025, their number is expected to reach 43 million people. The vast majority of these people are genuinely self-employed. 5.5 million are however estimated to be incorrectly classified as self-employed.

From the very start, representatives of the platforms and the workers have been lobbying EU member states, including Belgium, and the EU institutions. Furthermore,  thousands of documents (‘Uber Files’) have been leaked to the British newspaper The Guardian showing how Uber has been lobbying to promote its expansion worldwide.

Last Wednesday, an intermezzo occurred at the European Parliament in Brussels when platform workers interrupted an open seminar organized by Slovakian MEP Miriam Lexmann (EPP) on Europe’s platform economy to which only representatives of platform apps and the European Tech Alliance had been invited.

The workers did not feel welcome and even got a hostile response when the Swedish MEP, Sara Skyttedal (EPP) shouted at them, "I don’t even speak your language so you can go away and shut up." In a tweet she added, “Ignorant activists that interrupt meetings and obviously not even caring if the recipients of his ‘message’ even understands it can indeed just shut up.”

French MEP Leila Chaibi (Left Group, GUE/NGL) reacted, saying that. "It's unacceptable that digital platform lobbies, with the complicity of certain MEPs, weave their webs quietly within the European institutions to unravel the directive on the rights of platform workers. Debates must be public and transparent.”

In her tweet, MEP Skyttedal was referring to Brahim Ben Ali, a former UBER driver and founder of Uber Drivers’ Trade Union. He will get another opportunity to deliver his message uninterrupted in the Parliament already on Tuesday (25 October), when the Employment and Social Affairs Committee (EMPL) will organize a formal hearing.

To this hearing the whistle-blower in the Uber files, a former head of public diplomacy at Uber, the current director of EU public policy at Uber, and Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights, have been invited.

Sara Skyttedal is a Swedish politician and board member of the Christian Democrats. The party last week formed a new minority government in Sweden, together with the Moderates and the Liberals, and supported by the far-right Sweden Democrats from outside the government. The Sweden Democrats will become involved in all policy-making on equal terms as the three coalition partners lead by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson from the Moderates.

She told The Brussels Times that her party has not reacted to the incident in the European Parliament. “I find it hard to imagine anyone other than the far left thinks that it’s a problem that I asked an activist to be quiet when he interrupted a seminar by shouting in a language that none of the parliamentarians on the panel speak.”

She added that several people in the panel found the situation threatening. According to Skyttedal, the person concerned refused to present himself, suddenly interrupted the discussion and refused to wait for his turn for the floor when asked so by the moderator.

What is your opinion about the proposed Platform Workers Directive and how do you intend to protect the rights of the workers?

“Firstly, it is unfortunate that we are getting a new EU directive in this area, because the question of who is employed and who is self-employed should be decided by the member states,” she replied.

“When we now receive a directive, my focus is primarily on a balanced employment presumption in line with what the majority of the European Parliament agreed on in Sylvie Brunet's initiative report.” She was referring to French MEP Brunet (Renew) who was rapporteur last year in a report on fair working conditions, rights and social protection for platform workers.

“This currently means minimizing the damage of the Social Democratic chief negotiator’s radical proposal, according to which all self-employed people who work via a digital platform would be reclassified as employees.”

“My amendments, which I am putting forward with colleagues in the EPP Group, aim for a balanced presumption under which bogus self-employed persons will be reclassified as workers, while genuine self-employed persons will be able to continue working as self-employed persons.”

At stake in the forthcoming discussions between the Parliament, the Council and the Commission will be the criteria proposed by the Commission and how many of them need to be fulfilled for platforms to be presumed to be employers. According to the proposal, at least two of the criteria need to be fulfilled by the platforms.

The criteria are as follows:

  • determining the level of remuneration or setting upper limits;
  • supervising the performance of work through electronic means;
  • restricting the freedom to choose one's working hours or periods of absence, to accept or to refuse tasks or to use subcontractors or substitutes;
  • setting specific binding rules with regard to appearance, conduct towards the recipient of the service or performance of the work;
  • restricting the possibility to build a client base or to perform work for any third party.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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