Digital platform economy: The EU must strike a balance between innovation and protecting the rights of workers, says the EESC

More coordinated rules for digital platforms are called for in the own-initiative opinion adopted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) at its December plenary session. In the global process of transforming industry, digitisation has taken on a fundamental strategic role. The phenomenon is rapidly expanding beyond the borders of the European Union itself. Given the scale of this market, the EESC believes that the European Union and the Member States should coordinate the implementation of appropriate rules in order to strike a balance between innovation and safeguarding the rights of digital platform workers.

Digital platforms build a "virtual space", where interactions and exchanges take place that involve much more than simply matching supply and demand. These platforms are able to monitor and influence workers, suppliers and users in increasingly sophisticated ways. However, they also represent an extraordinary breakthrough innovation, offering new services for clients and new employment opportunities. They are able to do so through profiling systems and extensive use of data, employing artificial intelligence systems and algorithms determined by those who run the platforms. The EESC urges the European Commission, the EU Member States and the social partners to provide for initiatives promoting the development of platform cooperatives, which can use the new technologies to bring young workers and entrepreneurs together in a cooperative and thus support entrepreneurship.
Employees working through digital platforms and independent workers' cooperatives need social protection and economic security. The EESC’s opinion contributes in a timely and coherent way to the European Commission’s work on regulating digital platform workers and to a broader international debate on the phenomenon of platform cooperatives, showing that the Committee really is an attentive body able to represent civil society and Europe’s social partners, said the rapporteur for the opinion, Giuseppe Guerini.

Digital platforms are promoting the development of new types of businesses which provide a greater range of options for many people to participate in the new digital markets. Of all these various types of business, cooperatives are particularly suited to supporting inclusive participation in the governance of digital platforms. The cooperative model allows for the development of businesses established by self-employed workers aspiring to maintain their autonomy and creativity while at the same time improving their income, working conditions and access to social protection, avoiding non-standard forms of work.

The opinion points out that the European strategy for the digital transition should make provision for initiatives supporting the setting-up of cooperatives managing digital platforms. This would foster collective ownership of digital services, data and technological infrastructure, thereby encouraging greater economic diversification and promoting economic democracy.

The European Commission's proposals for regulating digital platform workers should focus on and be open to innovation, in a way that helps support businesses' competitiveness without losing sight of the protection of workers' rights. In particular, it must be ensured that people working for digital platforms are trained and enabled to better understand and control how algorithms governing the hiring of workers are applied, said the co-rapporteur for the opinion, Erwin de Deyn.