Looking at the future – The future of work is now | Editorial of CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger

While the distinction “employed vs self-employed” seems to be increasingly blurred, classic inderpendencies and interconnections of the industrial age may not apply anymore.

Dear members, partners, and friends,

The “future of work” is now.

While the distinction “employed vs self-employed” seems to be increasingly blurred, classic inderpendencies and interconnections of the industrial age may not apply anymore. The same goes for the traditional dichotomy “employer-worker” which, in some cases, is being replaced by 3- (or more) party agreements, as for example in the platform economy.

In this regard, we have strongly welcomed the recent adoption of a mandate of the European Parliament to enter into negotiations with the Council of Ministers on a proposal of the European Commission for a directive on improved working conditions in the platform economy.

Reading the text of the proposed directive, we realise how much employment and our (working) needs have changed in large parts of our labour markets. And this new world is complex, full of challenges, uncertainties, and dilemmas.

While flexibility and autonomy at work may increase to benefit both the employer and the worker (e.g. working parents), both may jeopardize the achievements of labour law, occupational safety and health, predictability, and security.

As new forms of employment emerge at increasing speed, we must make sure that they act as a “stepping-stone into standard employment”, rather than a route to the deregulation of our labour markets.

And the proposed directive on platform economy clearly points into the right direction. It is a “nice first serve” to help reset the imbalance of power between platforms and workers.

Aiming to create more legal certainty and homogeneity by presuming that an employment relationship is given under certain circumstances, the directive has also a ‘signal’ effect to the authorities of the Member States, to the platforms themselves, and, of course, to the estimated 5.5 million misclassified platform workers in the EU.

If, in a future directive on the platform economy, we do not deviate from the principle of a legal presumption of an employment relationship and provided that this presumption is not tied to fulfilling so many criteria that it becomes void, we have good chances to see an improvement in the working standards of many platform workers.

In sum, it must be safeguarded that any new directive will ‘bite’, that social security and labour law protection applies (in parts) to all workers, that there is an extensive right to collective bargaining, and – the key to everything when it comes to protection – that effective interest representation and social dialogue are guaranteed.

The active engagement of trade unions is crucial. In this changing landscape, we need strong and adaptable trade unions that will manage to unite workers in new ways of working and give them a voice.

In a recent position paper drafted by CESI’s Working Group on the Future of Work and adopted by CESI’s Presidium, major challenges were identified related to ‘decoupling’ threats with negative impacts stemming from the misuse of contracts, unpaid working time, isolation, and lacking information, consultation and participation, career rights, transparency, and precariousness.

So, it is also our job to ‘recouple’ workers.

And this is why we must modernise our structures and approaches. We must understand the ‘spirit’ of persons involved in the new forms of work, and we must improve our digital tools and become more attractive to young persons and workers. And, above all, we must seize any political, societal, and legislative momentum.

In the coming months, CESI will continue to discuss the role of trade unions in this new world of work.

And your active participation will be more than welcome!

Because all workers count.