opinion piece

Why Platform Work needs a decent level playing field

Denis Pennel, Managing Director of the World Employment Confederation, outlines WEC’s policy recommendations to create a decent level-playing field for platform work.

Published on 14th October 2020

Platform work has experienced rapid growth in recent years and been embraced by individuals and businesses alike. While working via an online platform does not constitute a new legal form of work as such, it does present a new way of organising and distributing work, which takes advantage of the opportunities afforded by advances in technology.

Platform work can be carried out through a host of different contractual work arrangements – including fixed term, part-time, agency work, variable hours, self-employed etc.  It also covers all sectors and occupations – from professional services through to domestic cleaning. As a consequence, online platforms offer significant potential to bring people into the labour market and support higher employment levels. Private employment services are also deploying online platform technology to enhance their added value to jobseekers, workers and businesses. From increased efficiencies to the promotion of new ways of working that can drive more dynamic, diverse and inclusive labour markets, we view online platform services as having the potential to bring a host of positive influences to labour markets. Indeed, technological advances allow our society to find a new balance between caring, learning, working and leisure.

As economies seek to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, this presents a particularly attractive prospect. The crisis has served to underline the importance of developing new ways of working and in many respects it has merely hastened the future of work.  However, if online platforms are to live up to their potential, then it is vital that regulatory frameworks around the world are keeping pace. We need to set in place regulation that fosters and leverages new technologies and labour market innovations. Regrettably, many existing labour market institutions are unable to accommodate digital advances such as platform work, leading to workers and businesses opting out of these new employment pathways – something that can be detrimental to both them and society.

What we need is to support digital technology in stimulating social innovation. This means taking a human-centred approach to labour markets and creating new solutions for working, learning and social protection to ensure that fundamental rights and benefits are appropriately balanced across diverse forms of work. Platform work is a form of work and as such, it rightly comes with expectations of decent work.

To support national and international policymakers in defining and applying such a regulatory framework, the World Employment Confederation has released a series of recommendations. They focus on HR-related on-line services and seek to create effective, appropriate regulatory conditions.

The first recommendation is that in regulating platform work there is no one-size-fits-all.  It encompasses a range of services, work statuses and ways of delivery.  Trying to create an international standard would merely divert attention away from the urgent need to redesign national labour market institutions and safety nets to accommodate a more dynamic and digital economy and world of work.

The second proposal is the need to create simple and clear regulation for worker classification. Workers and business need legal certainty and clear rules fit for the 21st century. Digital tools and technology mustn’t be confused with a contractual relation or the provision of a service, and workers and business communities need to collaborate in shaping a national common understanding of variables such as accountability, economic independence and supervision – including for self-employed workers.

Next comes the need for enforcement of worker status classification regulation in creating a level playing field. Resources should be allocated by public authorities and be proportional and risk based. Before considering regulatory overhaul, policymakers should assess to what extent effective enforcement would solve any worker classification issues.

Furthermore, policymakers need to ensure that similar services are governed by the same regulation, conditions and standards. Not all online platforms deliver the same output and many of them provide services that have existed for decades. In the case of recruitment services, if classification results in fees and costs being charged to jobseekers and workers illegally, then measures to halt the practice must be set in place.

Finally, agency work must be promoted as a decent way to organise platform work. It is internationally recognised under ILO Convention 181 and, like all forms of work, can be provided through online platforms as well as other digital tools and channels. Private employment agencies have embraced these new developments and continue to ensure quality and adaptability for all parties.

With these conditions in place I am confident that we can futureproof platform work and ensure that it is leveraged for the benefit of workers, business and our society as a whole.

First published on Staffing America Latina, October 2020

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