The European Commission wants more social protection and rights for casual workers, such as those in the "gig economy", and others with non-standard contracts to try to tackle growing social inequality.
The European Commission wants more social protection and rights for casual workers, such as those in the “gig economy”, and others with non-standard contracts to try to tackle growing social inequality. The Commission’s consultation document on these plans, seen by Reuters, is part of a broader reworking of the EU’s economic priorities, after pressure from populist forces that accuse Brussels of having pursued ultra-liberal policies to the detriment of workers.
The document proposes a substantial review of EU’s social rights that could partly limit workers’ flexibility and reduce the growing insecurity caused by new types of jobs offered by firms like Uber and food-delivery service Deliveroo. Brussels is proposing to extend full social protection and other forms of security to all workers, including those on very short-term, part-time and zero-hour contracts who in some EU member countries have lower safeguards.
Most EU workers have full-time, permanent contracts, but a growing number of people, especially the young, have jobs with ultra-flexible working hours, no regular pay and fewer employment protections. They accounted for more than one third of the total workforce in the 28-country bloc in 2015 and that share is growing, the commission said in the consultation paper to be presented on Monday. Most of these employees have to work under these conditions in absence of alternatives, the document said. Non-standard workers tend to have lower levels of social and health security and some new contracts, such as casual or voucher-based work, are even more worrying, the commission’s document said. The Commission’s proposals could raise costs for companies like Uber, which is already facing legal disputes in several EU countries and has not had its licence renewed in London.
The Commission is proposing that workers should be properly informed about the conditions of their employment and should be given explanations by their employers for not having a permanent contract after a few years in the same job. Casual workers should also be entitled to a minimum number of guaranteed hours “after a predefined continuous period,” the Commission said. But the enhanced protection would not be applicable to self-employed workers, which could provide a loophole for employers such as Uber and Deliveroo.
Uber says its drivers are self-employed, although in Britain this categorisation has recently been challenged by the government. Other non-standard work contracts, such as paid traineeships and temporary agency work, are also under the Commission’s scrutiny as they “continue to present challenges from the point of view of job security and adequate working conditions,” the consultation document said.
To reduce abuses linked to these forms of contracts, Brussels wants to introduce a maximum duration of employee probation. The Commission will initially discuss its plans with trade unions and employers, followed by legislative proposals.