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EU legislators strike deal on watered-down gig work rules

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European Union lawmakers and countries have again struck a deal on gig worker’s rights — but at the cost of the European Commission missing out on one of its key provisions.

The agreement reached Thursday, just ahead of the deadline to have EU bills adopted in time for the June European election, marks the end of two years of tough negotiations on a contentious labor issue.

Gig work, which became mainstream thanks to ride-hailing and food-delivery platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo, is only poised to grow in popularity: By 2025, 43 million people across the EU are estimated to be performing some sort of platform work.

Under the final deal, EU countries must introduce a mechanism in their national law that presumes gig workers are employed under certain conditions. Member countries can decide for themselves, though, what those conditions are.

The Commission’s initial proposal for EU-wide criteria to trigger the presumption of employment, which dates back to 2021, didn’t make the cut. However, in line with the original Commission proposal, it’s still up to digital labor platforms to rebut a presumption of employment.

This deviates from the current practice, where gig workers often have to take issues around their job status to the courts. This has led to endless litigation and legal uncertainty — although platforms argue this won’t go away under the new rules.

In a major plot twist, the Belgian Council presidency had floated a text earlier this week that deleted the Commission’s EU-wide criteria proposal. A spokesperson of the Belgian presidency confirmed Thursday that the final text didn’t include any criteria, and was “very close” to Belgium’s pitch.

The Belgian proposal was a massive snub to the Commission — and more specifically to Jobs Commissioner Nicolas Schmit. When unveiling the bill in December 2021, Schmit boasted of “clear criteria” to determine whether digital labor platforms were employers.

Belgium, in the end, had to water down the bill to save it; the file by a thread after an earlier political deal brokered by the previous Spanish Council presidency in December was scuppered by countries such as France.

Throughout the talks, the Council and Parliament had major disagreements about the topic. EU lawmakers had pushed for a lower bar to reclassify gig workers as employees — by removing the Commission’s criteria altogether — while the Council favored a higher threshold for reclassifying them.

A second part of the bill focused on algorithmic management — when workers are assigned tasks by an algorithm — and gave gig workers more information about the algorithms being used. This proposal was largely uncontentious.

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