How fit is EU legislation for the digital age?

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Crowd employment, sharing economy, digital platforms, changing work patterns, organisation, availability 24/7, definition of a worker, better regulation, red tape and deregulation, new jobs, jobs losses, data protection and online data used for performance rating,  fundamental and human rights, the Juncker promise of a pillar of social rights and the very future of social Europe. These are just some of the issues discussed during the EESC Workers' Group seminar How fit is EU legislation for the digital age? on Friday 11 December.

Workers' Group members, were joined by other representatives from national trade union confederations and European trade union federations, as well as academic experts on better regulation, the digital agenda and employment, labour law, EU social policy and legal issues. The objective of the event was to have an initial exchange on the links between the Digital Agenda and the Better Regulation approach, the impact of digitalisation on working and living conditions, and how the European social acquis needs to evolve to meet these new challenges.

In a first session, participants focused on the Better Regulation Agenda. It was noted that the Better Regulation agenda has shifted the issue away from the 'quality' of legislation, to legislation being seen either as a 'burden' or as a tool to boost competitiveness. They heard how trade union lobbying had achieved some improvements to the Inter-Institutional Agreement currently being negotiated, but that there are still elements which could undermine the democratic process, through increased technocratisation and bureaucracy.

In a second session, the discussion focused on some of the key questions raised by new forms of work such as crowd sourcing, digital platforms and jobs in the shared economy: is there an employment relationship, who is the employer, which rules should apply (labour law, consumer law etc)? These issues are key as this will inevitably determine how these aspects are regulated, so it is important for trade unions to consider these questions. The lack of social and employment aspects in the Commission's Digital Single Market Strategy was criticised and participants also heard the ETUC's initial reflections regarding the trade unions' key demands to address this gap and the impact of digitalisation on work.

The final session focused on President Juncker's promise of a "pillar of social rights" and how this could be linked with digitalisation and Better Regulation. Participants were reminded of previous EESC opinions which stress the importance of fundamental rights, as well as of the existing EU framework for protecting workers' rights. The discussion covered what a human-rights based approach to digitalisation could mean, looking at the applicability of existing labour law and human rights protection, as well as areas that would require specific protection or the adaptation of existing rules.

In closing the seminar, Gabriele Bischoff, President of the Workers' Group said that the Workers' Group wants to raise awareness regarding these important issues around Better Regulation and the Digital Agenda, and to give new impetus to the debate.  The Better Regulation agenda should be re-oriented towards better application of existing laws to address these issues. There are new ideas and new tools but trade unions need to develop a clear strategy. Further discussions would take place in the Workers' Group in 2016 to build on the ideas and contributions made in this seminar.