extract of my contribution to the IREC seminar IREC – The future of Industrial relations in B and N ‘ organized by the KUL on 11 september 2018
New forms of labour and certainly the platform economy can develop into systems that are really disruptive for the social dialogue. The idea that platform workers are salaried workers doesn’t stand a thorough legal examination . Some argue that they are workers and that labour law should apply to them even when they are self employed. But that is not the direction that was taken in the EU proposal concerning predictable and transparent working conditions. The commission clearly states that this directive should not cover the self employed. Some argue also that platformworkers have the right to collective bargaining based on the ILO conventions even if they are not salaried (article 98). But that point of view is actually not generally shared .Certainly not by the employers organizations.
But even that is not the main point. The main point is that there is no employer or at least no one considering himself as employer . With who do you negotiate in the platform economy ? With the algoritm ? With the consumer ? With a provider of services for the group ? With the authorities, to lobby for platform-reglementation ? The EU definition of employer in the transparent and predictable working conditions proposal is not really very helpful (employer = one or more natural or legal person(s) who is or are directly or indirectly party to an employment reltationship with a worker) (1). And of course there will never exist an employers organization for platforms . A platform that doesn’t want to be considered as an employer will not be eager to become a member of an employers organization.
This is not so negative for the association of workers and for organizations that want to play a role in this new field. At least for some activities like local services. And more certainly if some skills are needed. In fact this can be compared to a return to medieval guilds that were able to defend themselves quite well. More actual we can refer in Belgium to Unizo as an organization that was quite succesfull in defending the rights of liberal professions.
Another example is the paradoxal situation of the taximan .The corporation of taximan , composed by companies with workers and by self employed ,succeeded in imposing reglementation protecting their business . The main point of Uber is to avoid that reglementation.
This brings us to the problem of the rules concerning competition and price agreements. Collective agreements are exceptions on market rules but legally authorized. What will be the position of the competition authorities concerning agreements on prices of services ? On national and European level . The well known case of the Irish exception for fully dependent journalists and artists explicitely states that there should be no effect on the market nor any distorsion of competition . This doesn’t seem to problematic in the cultural sector or even in the media sector . On the other hand we can remember the intervention some time ago of the Belgian competition authorities prohibiting the tarifications of the architects (1995) an the reaction of those authorities to the proposals concerning the lawyers . But European case law seems in full evolution in that field , considering that even real self employed may conclude collective agreements in some situations . This evolution could change the approach of the platform activities and is certainly a field for further scrutiny .
(1) The definition disappeared in the final version of the directive