How the gig economy's lobbyists undermine social and workers' rights
The ‘gig’ or ‘platform’ economy – which refers to online companies such as Uber, Airbnb, Deliveroo, and TaskRabbit – is increasing its lobbying presence in Brussels. Platform companies’ key concern is to maintain their special privileges as part of the so-called ‘collaborative’ digital economy, including freedom from many regulations that ordinary taxi, home-letting, or temp firms, say, would be subject to. Of particular concern is the way companies like Uber class their workers as self-employed, thus contributing to a growing degradation of labour rights.
Their strategies are explored in the report “Über-influential? How the gig economy’s lobbyists undermine social and workers’ rights”.
Over the years, the platforms have been at the centre of heated debate in cities and member states. In response to the challenges platforms pose to eg. housing policy or labour rights, authorities have taken measures to mitigate the effect of the rapid increase in the use of the services provided by platforms.
In response, some platforms, Uber and AirBnB in particular, have launched multifaceted lobby campaigns to persuade decision-makers in the EU institutions to come to their defence. In particular, they have worked intensely for years to persuade the Commission to develop its interpretation of two existing directives that suits their interests, the Services Directive and the e-Commerce Directive.
The current application by the Commission of these two Directives touch on key interests of the platforms. The e-Commerce Directive makes it difficult to impose rules on the platforms due to the so-called ‘country-of-origin principle’.
- They enable platforms to refuse to cooperate with local authorities when they try to acquire the necessary data to enforce protective laws
- A simple thing as a requirement to obtain a licence can be prevented by the current application of the rules.
- They can even be used to counter legitimate restrictions on the use of the platform, as in the case of limits to the letting of flats to secure affordable housing for locals.
The European Commission, dazzled by talk of innovation, has been all too willing to be influenced by these companies’ lobbying aims. And if the Commission does not live fully up to expectations of platform lobbyists, they can often rely on member state governments instead, as in a recent case on the definition of ‘employee’ which leaves many platform workers without the protection enjoyed by colleagues with similar jobs.
In short, the platforms are trampling on social rights, and to stop them we need change not only at the national level but at the EU level as well.