Europewide protection for gig economy workers gets go-ahead

Image copyright AFP Image caption The European Commission is proposing a change to the employment conditions of gig workers such as those employed by Uber

A proposal to protect gig economy workers, including drivers for ride-hailing apps such as Uber, is getting a push.

It comes amid growing tensions between labour and employer groups in several European countries.

The proposal from the European Commission calls for employers to pay workers time-and-a-half for working more than eight hours each day.

Uber drivers and taxi drivers had resisted similar proposals last year.

Although it is called “Right to be Free from Exploitation”, the Commission term “gig economy” has sparked many accusations that the proposals could hurt the interests of large parts of the workforce.

Critics say businesses will be forced to introduce flexible working hours and increased staff benefits for workers who can feel exploited by relying heavily on their smartphones for employment.

But it is likely that only the smallest number of gig economy workers – numbering only in the tens of thousands – would be affected, says BBC Europe editor Gavin Hewitt.

The commission document proposed restrictions that would affect more than a million workers.

However, the proposals have not yet been formally put to any parliament, and the European Parliament will have the final say.

How would the proposals work?

Europe’s Charter of Fundamental Rights gives workers rights such as a minimum rest day, extra breaks and time-and-a-half for working more than eight hours a day.

But under current law, such changes must be negotiated between the employers and employee groups.

The proposed changes will change the law from 2021.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The EU wants firms such as Uber to pay more to workers

Under the EU proposal, firms such as Uber and Airbnb would have to set aside a quarter of their earnings to cover extra pay for hours worked outside of fixed contracts.

The commission also wants to ban “excessive” bonus payments for long working hours.

If employers make changes that break EU labour rules, such as engaging agency workers, they could face fines of up to 6% of a firm’s annual global turnover.

Drivers and taxi drivers, meanwhile, would be entitled to a tax deduction of 50% of income to compensate for tips.

New minimums would be introduced for everyone in Europe – including day labourers, gig economy workers and interns.

What’s been said about the proposals?

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC union group, says the proposal would amount to “bullying by the EU against the interests of most people in Britain”.

Some firms could create risk of worse conditions for the poorest and unemployed, he adds.

“The EU should be focussing on the big economies where poor working conditions contribute to unemployment and hardship,” he argues.

Kathryn Parsons, of campaign group Jobs with Justice, says: “British employers will love these proposals, but will they love the consequences?”

She cites a Labour manifesto pledge that “there will be no jobsworth employment laws if the party is elected”.

When asked about the proposals, a spokesperson for Uber said: “The EU is not in tune with the reality of working in the gig economy.

“Thousands of drivers are happily in full-time employment. This proposal, while well-intentioned, may not solve the problems faced by millions of people in Britain and across Europe.”

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