Impact of Policies on Digital Labour Platform Workers and Enterprises: Case Studies from Selected Countries
The development of information and communication technology through Internet since the early 2000s has led to the diffusion of digital innovations and rise of digital platforms. These innovations are leading to the proliferation of digital platforms in several sectors of the economy and transforming the world of work. Some countries have taken steps to improve working conditions issues related to work on digital labour platforms based on judicial decisions or through labour regulation or collective bargaining agreements, though the responses have varied from country to country. The approaches to extend labour protections to platform workers have varied and include: classification of workers as employees or self-employed or as an intermediate category based on control and autonomy; setting working time and remuneration standards; extending social security; providing occupational safety and health; providing dispute resolution mechanisms or regulating access to data and privacy (ILO 2021).
While there have been many research studies and reports that document the regulatory responses, judicial decisions or collective bargaining agreements to ensure protection to platform workers, little is still known about the impact of these policies and decisions on platform workers and platform companies. It is not clear to what extent workers have been able to benefit from these regulatory policy responses and how the platform companies have changed their policies to ensure protection to these workers. The case studies of selected countries (Australia, France, Spain, the United States, and the United Kingdom) in this special session proposal make an effort to fill this gap by focusing on the analysis of the effects of regulatory policy responses and measures introduced or implemented by some of the countries as well as collective bargaining agreements on platforms workers, platform companies and other traditional businesses.
The case studies adopt a similar methodology for conducting the analysis across countries. This involves mapping the situation of workers and platform companies before and after the implementation of these various measures. The analysis is based on short surveys and in-depth interviews with workers, union representative or informal worker associations, platform companies, administrators and the policy makers who are engaged with regulations. The data collection focuses on both the structural factors that accompany the legislative changes as well as the conditions of work (wages, social protection, other work-related benefits), regularity of work and status of the worker (employee vs. self-employed). In some countries, an attempt is also made to conduct the content analysis of online forums and social media groups to have a better understanding of the situation as well as the challenges. In addition, a review of the legislative frameworks is also undertaken to understand the legal status of the platform workers.
Presentations of the Special Session
Regulatory Developments in the United States: Case of California
Ever since gig platforms emerged in Silicon Valley during the late 2000s and early 2010s, there has been confusion around the classification of gig workers across courts and legislatures. This paper documents the regulatory developments on these issues across the federal, state, and municipal levels in the United States. In particular, the State of California’s story is a cautionary one. Although the California legislature extended employee status to gig workers in 2019, a change through the voter initiative process instead created a third, hybrid category situated between employee and independent contractor. This paper provides first-hand accounts from the policymakers in California who helped to pass these regulations, workers who experienced change, and firms that modified their rules. Alongside these policy fluctuations, the paper analyzes how the conditions of platform work have shifted, and what that might tell us about a path forward for future regulatory interventions.
Law as a Resource or Action: The Example of Platform Workers in France
In France, platform workers in the taxi and delivery sector were quickly mobilized to challenge the unilateral decisions of the platforms. These collective actions provided an opportunity to appreciate the degree of inequality in the so-called collaborative contractual relationship and of the powerlessness in the face of the platforms' decision-making power. It also provided an opportunity to organize collectively into ad hoc unions or to join existing unions to ensure decent working conditions. This bubbling/coalescing of actions and actors led to the emergence of normative innovations on the national level with the unprecedented opening and creation of a structure for social dialogue for self-employed workers, with normative advances on sensitive subjects on the European level (in terms of collective bargaining for self-employed workers, and with sub-national experiments involving local authorities and NGOs working in fields other than labour (experimentation of the courier house in Bordeaux with the NGO Médecins du Monde). This paper explores what lessons can be drawn from this proliferation of experiments at the local (Bordeaux/Paris), national (ARPE) and European (guidelines and draft directive) levels, which reflect a shared aspiration of platform workers for decent work and social justice based on interviews with policy makers and workers. It also highlights what lessons can be learned about the role of institutions and the law as a resource for action.
The Power of Collective Action and the Limits of Regulation: The Struggle for Riders’ Rights in Spain
The situation in Spain regarding platform work is, from the perspective of its legislative framework, rather interesting, as it is one of the still few countries to have enacted a specific piece of legislation on platform work, the so-called “Riders-Act 2021”. The approach used in Spain is a sectorial approach and applies only to the food delivery sector. This legislation is the result of social dialogue, as this Royal Decree is based on a previous nation-wide agreement of Spain’s most representative social partners. This act introduced a presumption according to which riders are considered to be dependent workers in most cases. This paper looks at whether this Act had the expected impact on working and economic conditions of this collective. What was the reaction of the platforms to this legislative Act? Was there any form of resistance to employ directly their riders under employment contracts subject to labour law? What has been the response of the labour inspectorate in ensuring that the law is respected? This paper explores these questions based on interviews with policy makers, workers and platform companies and documents some of the struggles in implementing this legislative act in Spain.
On Their Own Terms: UK’s Largest Unions Making Headway with few Prospects for Legislation over Employment Status
In the UK, as elsewhere, platform work tends to “evade” labour law. Legal actions are fragmentary but have made concrete gains, despite contradictory outcomes. These cases have fed into the development of collective bargaining with several major platform employers. Bargaining remains tentative, moderate, and fragile, with coverage that vastly exceeds membership, and has some sharp critics, but it is happening at mass scale and is achieving modest change. This paper provides a firsthand account of discussions with unions, Government, and companies about whether flexible working really is a choice that suits workers, whether companies hesitate to offer improved conditions for fear this might serve as evidence of employment status, whether they see a real prospect of legislation to address employment status, and whether union regulation of the sector might increase. Based on these discussions, this paper will present some of the broad differences and disagreements as well as areas where there is potential for cooperation among the various stakeholders.
Legislative Developments in Australia
In early 2022, the High Court of Australia, Australia’s apex court, handed down two decisions which emphasized the primary of contract over the primacy of fact. This departure from previous practice undermined litigation seeking to increase the responsibility of digital labour platforms for gig workers. While work health and safety and equality legislation have been largely unaffected by the cases, since they apply irrespective of contractual arrangements, labour standards are largely dependent on the existence of an employment relationship. That is now much harder to prove where contractual terms seek to evade it. In response, the Federal Government has flagged major changes to key labour statutes, with a view to providing greater protection to gig workers. New legislation is likely to be enacted in the second half of 2023. The government views the area as among the more difficult legal changes to enact and so has left a fairly long lead time for consultation and drafting. As it is a labour party, it is under considerable pressure from its union base to make significant reforms. Meanwhile, some unions have negotiated direct agreements with certain platforms to provide at least some entitlements to gig workers.