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Belgium rewrites gig economy rulebook

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The Belgian federal government struck a labor deal Tuesday that, after existing laws are amended, would impose new obligations on gig economy platforms and set criteria for determining their workers’ job status.

Many countries throughout the EU are pondering the status of gig workers, like Uber drivers and Deliveroo couriers. At issue is whether those workers are self-employed contractors — as platforms claim — or employed and as such due the benefits associated with in-house work. Belgium is moving ahead of a December EU initiative to settle the issue; the bloc’s rules won’t take effect for another few years.

“We know it’s a sector in full development, but also a sector for which we have to set some beacons, to better define which is the relationship between the platform and the worker,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said during a press conference on the labor deal — adding that the approach used “is fully in line” with the EU’s initiative.

Belgium will introduce a set of criteria to assess whether a platform worker is a contractor or employed, which aligns with the EU’s proposal’s approach. If enough criteria are fulfilled — it’s not yet clear how many or which ones — gig workers will automatically be classified as employees. That status can, however, be challenged in front of a court of administrative authorities.

Belgium intends to “complement” an earlier 2006 law on labor relationships in order to establish the eventual criteria, according to Labor Minister Pierre-Yves Dermagne: “We don’t want to hurt this sector, but we want to supervise it and put an end to certain grey areas.” Gig economy platforms will also have to offer insurance for work-related accidents, regardless of their workers’ status, Dermagne added.

It remains to be seen how much Belgium’s criteria will deviate from those in the EU proposal.

The EU’s criteria involve gauging how much control or supervision a platform exerts over workers’ prices, appearance, quality of work or conduct. Additionally, the status of a platform worker may be determined based on whether the company limits a person’s ability to work for other clients or sets their working hours. Platforms have fretted over how those criteria will be assessed in practice, while some lawmakers have shown concern they might be watered down in the process.

Deliveroo said this proposal would “enable riders to continue working with the flexibility they value.” Uber was more cautious, saying it would “study the plans.”

The Belgian labor package also introduces a four-day workweek — which allows workers to finish a full-time job in four days— and gives workers the right to disconnect after hours and more flexible rules on night work for e-commerce companies.

Tensions grew last week when Paul Magnette, president of the Francophone Socialist Party, declared he preferred Belgium to be a country “without e-commerce, but with real brick-and-mortar stores.” He later backtracked, saying he merely wanted to avoid a race to the bottom.

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