Work, new forms of work, and working conditions

 by Worker's Group

Employment numbers are constantly in the headlines. However, what is almost as important as how many people are employed is what conditions they work in. This is particularly relevant in view of the latest labour developments and the increase in non-standard contracts, where ECJ rulings have been necessary to establish that, for instance, Uber drivers are employees, not freelancers.

The concept of 'working conditions' comprises many dimensions, from salary, working hours, health and safety, to benefits, specific duties and so on; this includes 'probationary periods', which in some cases no longer serve their purpose and simply provide a cheap and flexible labour force. It is nonetheless still important for workers to know and understand these conditions in advance - something that is not always straightforward - and to be notified of any changes as soon as possible, giving them predictability.

To this end, the European Commission is proposing a regulation to develop a coherent framework for this right to know for workers. The proposal does, however, still have some issues, such as the scope of its definition of 'workers'. The fast-paced development of the labour market has created a plethora of different 'new forms of work' such as voucher and platform workers, who, with their non-standard job contracts, are not covered by the traditional definition of an employee.

This is not, of course, something limited to the 'new forms of work': non-standard contracts such as zero-hour contracts and posted and domestic workers have been around for a long time, most of them with very little predictability in their working conditions and therefore little work-life balance in practice. Predictability also makes it possible to balance work and study, or to have another part-time job.

In all these cases, collective bargaining is the key to ensuring proper working conditions, and the reference to this in the proposal is welcome. Particularly as these 'flexible' conditions become more common with the spread of new forms of work, clear and inclusive definitions of workers and employers are needed, in order to ensure that strong provisions for workers are not simply bypassed by the new forms of work, and that the new realities (such as life-long learning and its associated training being paid for by the employer) do not impose an additional burden on workers.