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Giving rights to platform workers: are collective agreements the right tool?

Giving rights to platform workers: are collective agreements the right tool?

 
Daniela Ceccon, WageIndicator Foundation
 
Despite the general feeling that collective bargaining agreements are part of ‘old school’ labour relations, they might be the tool to give rights to platform workers. This has already happened in two countries so far: in Denmark and in Spain platform workers have entered collective agreements for the first time. How did it happen, which are the rights given to platform workers and can these CBAs be an example to follow elsewhere?
The WageIndicator collective agreements database (http://wageindicator.org/cbadatabase ) contains almost 1000 collective agreements. The texts have been collected from more than 50 different countries and annotated in detail since 2012. However, platform workers have started appearing in the texts only very recently and so far in these two countries only.
In particular, in the case of Spain, the collective agreement ALEH – covering hospitality, catering and tourism companies – has been updated in December 2018 with the inclusion of the so-called ‘riders’ who deliver – by foot or with a vehicle – food and drinks. The agreement specifies that also the riders who work via a platform are included. However, this seems to be true and legally applicable only when the rider works for one customer/platform only. If that is not the case, it means that he/she is a freelancer and cannot be employed.
Different sector, different outcome, different situation: in Denmark, the app Hilfr – providing cleaning services – has signed a collective agreement with 3F Private Service, Hotel and Restaurant. The agreement covers the employees only, not the freelancers. However, after 100 hours of work via the platform, freelancers automatically obtain the status of employees and are subsequently covered by the collective agreement. Hilfr, in this case, acts as the employer of cleaners and similar jobs, but in Denmark these jobs are already performed by employees of bigger agencies. Hilfr can be defined as a more ‘modern’ one.
In the CBA Database of WageIndicator, for each and every CBA, WageIndicator answers to a series of questions related to twelve topics: General CBA data, Job titles, Social security and pensions, Training, Employment contracts, Sickness and disability, Health and medical assistance, Work/family balance arrangements, Gender equality issues, Wages, Working hours and Coverage. For each question, the appropriate piece of text is found and stored in the database in a process also known as “text annotation”. The database’s coding scheme consists of 749 variables in total.
Using the Database system, the paper analyzes the content of the agreements to see which are the provisions granted to platform workers and compares them with the provisions of other agreements from the same country included in the database.
With the help of interviews of the trade unions who signed these agreements, the paper contextualizes the CBAs to see how the country background affected the inclusion of platform work in such structured and binding contracts. Also, where possible, it provides an insight about what happens in reality with the implementation of the collective agreement, and how this affects the working conditions of platform workers.
Something is happening also In the Netherlands, where the Dutch platform Temper is cooperating with the trade union for the hospitality industry, FNV Horeca. Both parties will look into pensions and insurance for the independent contractors, which might be a first step towards an actual collective agreement. In Germany, the solution of including platform workers as self-employed in the compulsory statutory pension scheme has been proposed by many, including the White Paper Work 4.0 of the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (2017). In this document, it is also argued that “The economic and social situation of certain self-employed persons can, however, also be improved by means of collective agreements” (p. 174). The White Paper refers to 44 existing collective agreements that already contain provisions for employee-like workers and suggests that self-employed platform workers should profit from the collective agreements tool, which is now underused by self-employed workers. In neither of the two countries, however, a collective agreement which includes platform workers has been signed yet, but if it will happen, the CBA will be included in the WageIndicator database and coded.
The analysis of the present situation suggests that collective agreements can be a tool to give rights to platform workers, but their application is very much dependent on the structure of the collective agreements themselves, on the country’s background, and on the employment status of platform workers. Whether a worker is regarded as self-employed or employee is the first definition to be given, before a collective agreement is signed or applied.
In the summer of 2019, WageIndicator will start a project to collect income data and regulation data for the ten largest platforms in six countries. The aim is to compare data to understand what is really happening in the platform workers’ world, to inform workers and social partners, and – where possible – to synchronize good ideas.