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Creating a decent work environment for employees in the new economy

| Text: Kerstin Ahlberg, editor EU & Arbetsrätt

How can the Swedish Work Environment Authority carry out inspections and promote satisfactory work environments for the self-employed, digital platform workers or those who are employed in other new forms of organising work? That is what the authority is trying to figure out in a two year-long project commissioned by the government.

Work environment legislation is based on the idea that there is an employer who has hired employees who work in a particular place of work, and that the employer is responsible for providing these employees with a satisfactory work environment. There are some exceptions. An employer also carries some responsibility for temporary agency workers for instance, because it is the employer – and not the agency – who controls the conditions in the place where the agency workers work.    

But who is responsible for securing a decent work environment for the so-called self-employed, those who accept commissions via digital platforms or who carry out IT based mobile work? The law provides no certain answers. The question is whether they should be considered to be employees, and who in that case is their employer.

This is the background to the mission the government recently gave the Work Environment Authority. Over two years, it is going to carry out special inspection measures, aimed at new ways of organising work – like in the platform economy. In this way the Work Environment Agency will gather knowledge about work environments where work is organised in new ways, while it can also find out how to use its powers to bring about satisfactory work environments for people working in such places.

An official government report from last year (SOU 2017:24 A changing labour market – what is the impact on the responsibility for the work environment?) opens up for the possibility to reconsider whether work environment regulations should be so targeted at the relationship employer – employee – workplace. Instead, the starting point should be that those with the power to influence conditions in a certain place should carry some kind of responsibility for the people who work there. This way, the regulations will cover all those who work there and who are in need of protection in their work environment, the report says. 

We will know whether the Work Environment Authority’s new inspection project arrives at similar conclusions by the end of 2020, when the project is due for completion.


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