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Consider embedding platform work in the job market

Platform work, such as driving for Uber or freelancing through Upwork, is booming, but it also raises questions about employment rights. A new EU directive should soon make it easier for platform workers to prove that they are not self-employed but employees. But what then? According to labour law researcher Jorn Kloostra, not enough attention has been paid to how platform work should be given a sustainable place in the Dutch job market. Kloostra will defend his PhD thesis at Radboud University on 26 June.

Platform work is a form of employment whereby people provide services for clients via an online platform such as an app or a website. Examples include Deliveroo, whose riders accept deliveries through an app, or Upwork, where freelancers can find jobs like copywriting and graphic design. Throughout the European Union, there were around 28 million platform workers in 2021. This is expected to increase to around 43 million by 2025.

“Platform work is playing an increasingly important role in today's economy. It promises platform workers and companies a great deal of autonomy and flexibility,” says labour law researcher Jorn Kloostra. “However, this kind of work also raises questions about employment rights and social protection.” Kloostra studied how European and Dutch courts and legislators regard platform work. 

Legal challenges

The legal status of platform workers is a particularly important issue: they are often labelled self-employed by the platform, but in many ways are also like employees. A platform often has so much power that it can unilaterally impose working conditions on platform workers. This might concern how much payment they receive and when they are required to work. Furthermore, platforms monitor how work is performed. And they manage workers using their smart algorithms. “This spring, a new directive was adopted at European level to improve the position of platform workers in relation to the platform,” says Kloostra. “Among other things, this should make it easier for individual workers to claim to be employees. It is up to the platform to prove that they aren’t. In the past, it was the other way around.”

Quite a milestone, says Kloostra. The debate is not over, but it seems to be moving to the national level. “How do we give platform work a place within Dutch labour law? There are few nuances here: you are either an employee with lots of rights, or you are self-employed without those rights. Many platform workers find themselves in a grey area between being an employee and being self-employed. If we want to give platform work a sustainable place in the job market, that will still involve complex legal challenges.”

Unwanted consequenses

Current labour law does not relate well to the specifics of platform work in all respects, Kloostra argues. “There are important political choices ahead of us.” For example, if their workers are labelled as employees, platforms could be required to pay wages from the moment platform workers log on to the platform and between assignments. “It is possible that platforms will leave the Netherlands as a result,” says Kloostra. That happened at Deliveroo in 2021 when the Supreme Court declared that their workers were employees. The cleaning platform Helpling even went bankrupt after a similar ruling.

But it can also be detrimental to platform workers themselves. Fixed working hours makes work less flexible, for example. “That means that you have an impact on a group of people for whom platform work offers a real solution, such as people caring for a loved one, or those who need to be able to work independent of location,” says Kloostra. “Politicians don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, so we need to think about such questions well in advance.”

Contact information

For more information, please contact Persvoorlichting & Wetenschapscommunicatie via 024 361 6000 or media [at] ru.nl (media[at]ru[dot]nl). 

Organizational unit
Faculty of Law
About person
J. Kloostra (Jorn)
Theme
Law