Member states have given a new chance to the Platform Workers Directive, whose survival hangs by a thread.
Ambassadors to the EU agreed on Friday to a revised mandate, which enables the Council, represented by Belgium, to head back to negotiations with the European Parliament.
The face-to-face talks are expected to take place as early as next Tuesday in a race against the clock before the legislative cycle grinds to an absolute halt in anticipation of the upcoming EU elections to be held 6-9 June.
The road, however, is not yet clear: according to a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity, during Friday’s discussions, six member states either opposed the revised mandate or abstained, suggesting resistance to the directive is still well entrenched.
The draft law, unveiled in late 2021, is designed to improve the working conditions of those who service popular daily apps such as Uber, Deliveroo and Glovo, who are often treated as self-employed despite being under rules similar to regular employees.
The text’s centrepiece is a novel system of legal presumption that would readjust the status of platform workers if they meet a certain number of criteria, or conditions, in their day-to-day businesses, such as being forbidden from servicing a competitor app or being compelled to follow norms on appearance, conduct and performance.
Brussels estimates that about 5.5 million of the 28 million platform workers currently active in the European Union are misclassified and would therefore fall under the legal presumption. Doing so would make them entitled to rights like minimum wage, collective bargaining, work-time limits, health insurance, sick leave, unemployment benefits and retirement pensions – on par with any other regular worker.
Since the presentation of the directive, the legal presumption has come under intense scrutiny, not only by the platforms themselves, who fear ballooning costs to accommodate the updated status, but from liberal and right-wing governments wary of increasing administrative burden and slowing down the so-called Gig Economy.
Member states spent months trying to converge their diverging viewpoints and agreed on a common mandate in June last year, which added a provision to grant national authorities the “discretion of not applying the presumption” in certain cases.
The Parliament, by contrast, opted for a maximalist, workers-friendly position that made it harder for platforms to circumvent the legal presumption, strengthened the transparency requirements on algorithms and ramped up penalties for non-compliance.
The deep gap between the two institutions bogged down negotiations. It took six rounds of negotiations, a particularly high number, until a deal was reached in mid-December.
But while lawmakers cheered on the breakthrough, a rebellion erupted in the Council.
A larger-than-expected group of countries, including France, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Greece, Finland, Sweden and the three Baltic states, made it clear they could not support the new text, as they believed Spain, then holder of the rotating presidency, had drifted too far from the June mandate. Germany, the bloc’s most powerful state, kept silent, an attitude interpreted as a prelude to an abstention.
The last-minute opposition threw the entire process into disarray and raised serious doubts about whether the law would survive or fall apart.
Due to the upcoming elections to the Parliament, all interinstitutional negotiations have to conclude by mid-February. Those who fail to make it past the deadline are condemned to limbo and might very well be forgotten once the legislative cycle restarts in September.
Belgium, the current holder of the rotating presidency, strove to rescue the directive before it was too late and drafted a new compromise to bring all member states on board. The text, which ambassadors approved on Friday, mostly reverts to the June mandate, meaning the Council is back to where it once was.
However, the fact that the opposing countries lifted their resistance on Friday does not automatically mean they will consent to the outcome of the fresh round of negotiations. A diplomat from one of the hesitant states told Euronews the go-ahead came with “slight caution” attached and that Belgium should be careful “not to go too far.”