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Disruptive Innovators: Contract Prototypes for the Platform Work Case study of Serbia

Disruptive Innovators: Contract Prototypes for the Platform Work – Case study of Serbia

Authors: Branka Andjelkovic, Jelena Sapic, Maja Kovac
Public Policy Research Center1
Division: LAW
This paper is oriented towards investigation of national legal and policy regulations in the domain of status and the position of platform workers from Serbia. It explores national solutions and enforcement of regulations on both, platforms and labour force that are noticeably growing as transnational actors. Serbia together with Romania and Ukraine, now for years, share leading position in Europe when taking into account per capita number of platform crowdworkers (OLI, 2019; Kuek et al., 2015) Considering this trend, it is indispensable to stimulate discussion that addresses existing gaps in legal and policy solutions for this category of workers in national context.
However, the existing literature in this area rather focuses on the specific role the platforms perform in regulating status and the position of their workers while the role of governments in these endeavors is scarcely discussed. This is because, as certain authors argue, platforms, not governments, regulate labour markets at the moment (De Stefano, 2015; Berg, 2016; Aloisi, 2016; Prassl, 2018). They are gaining advantage at the national labour markets as they do not operate in compliance with national labour and antitrust regulations (Cherry and Aloisi, 2017).
On the other hand, the debate in this area is further centered on the role of platforms as intermediaries between workers and clients. Regardless of such narratives, platforms do perform some of the functions of an employer (Andjelkovic and Sapic., 2019; Prassl and Risak, 2016) via defining procedures and rules for the work to be carried out. Their mandate seen in a form of an employer concedes who and under what conditions can be engaged or dismissed while being in charge of financial transactions and liability. Yet, they still do not offer any opportunity to establish the employment or the basis to cover social benefits by the contracts they offer. Furthermore, as research in the area shows short-term contracts issued by the platforms cannot serve as a mean to gain the employment status in many national contexts including Serbia. Aspects such as securing unemployment insurance, minimum wage, voice and representations, and access to systems of social protection are called into the question.
It is evident that national legal and policy regulations in the domain of labour and employment are lagging behind to accommodate these new realities for an increasing number of workers, bringing into the question conventional model of work and employment and hindering their access to insurances and labour and employment rights. This paper intends to cover existing gap in being oriented to the case of Serbia.
Methodologically, the paper employs quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative methods include new approaches such as collecting open data on platforms, but also “traditional” ones like online surveys. As for the qualitative techniques they include semi-structured interviews with national and international legal experts, and content analysis of the contracts, existing legal regulations and proposals in Europe and in Serbia tailored for the labour markets of the twenty-first century.
The paper thus probes existing forms of contracts, initiatives, and policy measures to outline key features of new contracts and discusses niches for authorities to enforce them. It acknowledges that the platform work provides an opportunity to gain experience and income. Platforms also have provided workers with a chance to overcome the shortcomings of a local labour market in which there is no demand for their skills and/or which offers lower prices for their work. Yet, platforms simultaneously leave workers without legal protection and protection of socio-economic rights due to the lack of appropriate contracts.
As the CENTER’s research shows the possibility for digital workers from Serbia to be hired as an employee or under a service contract does not exist because the platforms are not registered as employers in Serbia. The only option offered by the local legislation is the registration of a business entity. Almost a third of the CENTER’s surveyed digital workers regulated their legal status in this way. Those who opted for such a solution in most cases decided to register as entrepreneurs, and only in few cases they established companies.
About two-thirds of the respondents remain in shadow economy due to the lack of other solutions. A possibility to register as an independent worker and/or a freelancer does not exist in Serbia, although there is a legal practice to draw upon such a solution. Currently, it is only available to a limited number of professions (e.g. artists, journalists, priests).
Due to the lack of legal provisions, these workers are often registered as the unemployed at the National Employment Service (NES) or are considered as inactive population, and thus their work remains invisible. Even when they are “visible” to the system through another job in the offline world, they cannot get a supplementary contract referring to the digital work. This gap between the existing legal solutions and emerging forms of non-standard forms of employment contributes to the growth of informal employment, which is already relatively high in Serbia.
The paper contributes to the ongoing debate in the academia and policy communities – in particular, about the impact of platform work on labour law, and, in general, about law reforms needed to cover rapidly growing number of non-standard workers in online and offline realms.