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EU directive gives Nordic platform workers new hope

EU directive gives Nordic platform workers new hope

| Text: Line Scheistrøen, photo: Björn Lindahl

The EU platform work directive is in place at last. It should help platform workers in the Nordic EU countries who work for companies like Foodora and Wolt to secure decent working conditions. In Norway, this was solved at the start of this year through a change to the working environment act.

After months of quarrelling, the EU countries agreed on the platform work directive this month. The original proposal was put forward in 2021.  

The EU platform work directive is intended to regulate the working conditions for people who work for digital platforms like Foodora, Wolt and Uber. An estimated 28 million Europeans work on digital platforms today. The EU Commission says this number will rise to 43 million workers by the end of this year.

The directive’s central point is to make a clearer distinction between who are employees and who are self-employed. It will be up to each individual EU country to establish some of their own criteria, however. But if the platforms control factors like salaries and working hours, the workers should be considered to be employees, according to the new directive. 

People who work for digital platforms will now be granted regular employee rights like holiday pay, pensions and sick pay.

The platform directive has faced strong resistance from large international companies. There has also been disagreement internally in the EU. 

What will the companies do?

Stine Rasmussen from Denmark’s Aalborg University has been following the platform work directive debate with interest.  

She and her Nordic research colleagues have previously seen the consequences of the platform economy in Nordic labour markets.

“Much of the debate in Denmark has centred on whether platform workers are employees or self-employed. Several platform companies, for instance in cleaning and food delivery, have been criticised by trade unions in particular for refusing to take on employers’ responsibilities – because they see those working for or via the platforms as being independent.” 

Rasmussen expects working conditions for platform workers will improve when agreement is reached on the Danish criteria.

She thinks it will be interesting to see the platform companies’ reaction to the directive.

“The platform companies that operate in Denmark are facing big challenges to their concepts because it will be harder for them to build a business model around employees rather than self-employed workers,” she says.

Foodora strike

Foodora cyclist protesting in Oslo in the autumn of 2019. Their demands for a collective agreement were upheld. 

Algorithm control

It will also no longer be possible to use algorithms in the apps to for instance sack someone who is working for a platform.

“This is a good thing because we know from ongoing Danish and Norwegian research that working environments can be negatively affected when work is run by algorithms, such as experiencing stress and working under high time pressure,” says Rasmussen.

She is not sure, however, whether it is enough to highlight the use of algorithms.

“Certain platform companies have a fairly complex use of algorithms. So despite more openness, it is hard to see exactly what the algorithm does or what happens with the platform workers’ working conditions when the companies make changes to the algorithms,” says Rasmussen. 

New rules in place in Norway

It is unlikely that the platform work directive will have a major impact on platform workers in Norway. 

This is because a new rule was introduced this year, stipulating that permanent employment should be assumed unless the client makes it overwhelmingly likely that there is a contractual relationship.

It is now the employer’s responsibility to prove that a platform worker is a contractor and not an employee.

Norway’s United Federation of Trade Unions, Fellesforbundet, is happy with the changes to the working environment act, says Fredrik Winger-Solvang from the Oslo Transport Workers’ Union, section 4 in Fellesforbundet. 

“We have already decided how this will work in Norway, so that is what we relate to,” he says.

Experiences from “The Pink Strike”

In 2019, Foodora cyclists went on strike for better pay and working conditions. It became known as “The Pink Strike” due to the workers’ pink outfits. The result was a collective agreement with Fellesforbundet’s section 4, the Oslo Transport Workers’ Union. 

Winger-Solvang says that the union has had positive experiences with Foodora as a counterpart. Foodora is a member of Virke, The Federation of Norwegian Enterprise.

“They have taken their employer’s responsibility seriously,” he says. 

A new campaign

Fellesforbundet is currently campaigning against Wolt in an attempt to organise their drivers. The Oslo Transport Worker’s Union hopes to recruit enough members to eventually be able to demand a collective agreement with Wolt as well.

Anastasios Mertzanis, a Wolt driver in Trondheim, said this to the Nidaros newspaper:

“We work like slaves. We have no contract and no rights. Wolt can change the agreement whenever they please. If a customer makes a complaint about a delivery, Wolt can completely or partially withdraw the driver’s payment.”

Fredrik Winger-Solvang participated in the event in Oslo. Events were also held in Trondheim and Bergen. He believes the Wolt drivers will be considered to be employees after the changes to the working environment act, and must therefore be hired.




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