Having servants isn’t a modern concept. It’s morally repulsive as well as politically backward. Even if you don’t snap at them and instead tap your phone to have them bring you food.
We publish an opinion expressed by the European Public Service Union (EPSU) on the critical need to regulate the market of ‘platform work,’ in which individuals use an app or a website to match themselves with customers in order to provide a service in exchange for money. Unions appear to be the only viable organizations attempting to address this new phenomenon. We provide our editor’s note before the EPSU statement — a Polish perspective on these issues.
Most of the silhouettes passing me on the sidewalks in the city are those pedaling squadrons in Glovo, Bolt, or Uber Eats ‘uniforms’ at certain times of the day and week. There are times during the night or on weekends when the only vehicles speeding down the city’s major roadways are those bearing the Uber or Bolt logos. An ambulance or a police car will occasionally pass between them.
This colonization of space, as well as the enslavement of countless ‘urban nomads’ to the digital yoke, has occurred at such a rapid and massive scale!
I’m sure the pandemic accelerated the process in part, but it wasn’t the driving force. What has happened is partly a reaction to the spontaneous desire to ‘flexibilize’ work and consumption on the part of both capital and society. However, there is nothing in it that is ‘pro-social,’ let alone ‘modern.’
On the contrary, it is retrograde, dragging us backwards in time. The role of servants is being resurrected right before our eyes! Of course, in a different dimension, in a different quality, and in a completely different manner. Employees in this sector, however, are our servants 2.0.
Of course, there is no progress in it; in fact, there is no modernity. Only a semblance of the latter exists. The only thing in it is the short-term convenience, which paves the way for systemic pathologies to deepen. It’s another step toward corporate colonization of the entire public space; it’s digitization and ‘algorithmization’ of exploitation; it’s also a brutal massacre of stationary catering’s previous position and role on the market (and in culture); and, finally, it’s a destruction of the social fabric through ‘precarization’ of urban life.
It’s pathetically anti-humanitarian that, with the masses’ enthusiasm, not only our sidewalks, squares, intersections (let alone hospitals and schools) are privatized, monetized, and exploited, but also our habits, desires, and actions as a result of our participation in culture, society, and the city. The streets have turned into squares of spontaneous dispersal of clusters of bicycles, scooters, and cars, and each vehicle goes to perform a service for its temporary master, who bought it for a pittance in the digital market of urban slavery. It is, of course, clad in the garbs of comfort, prosperity, and flexibility. It presents itself as very ‘modern.’ And a large number of people believe this bluster!
Today’s capital has a much larger appetite. It is interested in more than just our labor; it has long profited from our emotions (social networks) and has already colonized our leisure time and bodies. Now, however, it appears to be taking away the last thing that was still within our grasp: the ability to move around completely abstracted from the exploitation and totalitarian order of the workplace, leaving our financial worries and woes behind us for a short while, walking ahead in the early morning in a city that is just waking up to life, or looking at the cityscape from above with a cup of coffee bought in a café open at 6:00 am.
This brief, necessary, and much-needed momentary escape from reality was sentenced to death by the system. Social life must now be completely subordinated to the rhythms of accumulation!
The Polish ‘metropolitan crowd’ will either ignore this or will prioritize the temporary elation of their own ego, which can be inflated by receiving food from a serving man on a bicycle dressed in a corporate uniform from. Polish would-be liberals even applaud this bizarre invasion of ‘modernity,’ which they stumble across like overturned electric scooters on almost every corner in the heart of the country’s largest cities. With few exceptions, all of Poland’s big-city representatives of ‘civil society’ or ‘middle class’ are small, phony, insecure, and impossibly ignorant, despite having advanced degrees. They sigh with disgust or fatigue at the Catholic-nationalist Polish government, but when it comes down to it, when it comes to defining oneself ethically and aesthetically, not declaratively, but through one’s own choices, it turns out that the majority of those oh-so concerned about the fate of democracy, the Constitution, and the Supreme Court are feudal patricians masquerading as democratic liberals.
Why the EU needs to regulate platform work
On 7 October, the World Day of Decent Work, trade unions joined forces and called on the European Union to ensure decent work for workers in platform companies. We cannot wait any longer to put an end to the poor working conditions of platform workers, especially with regard to their social security and safety.
The European Commission is committed to introduced legislation before the end of the year to address the improvement of working conditions for platform workers and the social partner consultation was completed in September 2021. In line with the European Parliament resolution on fair working conditions, rights and social protection for platform workers, the trade unions have been advocating a rebuttable presumption of an employment relationship between platform companies and workers. The trade unions have further voiced their opposition to the creation of a ‘third status’ in addition to the traditional classifications of workers and employees. While the unions do not dismiss genuine self-employment, they strongly oppose bogus self-employment and demand that platform companies must be liable for their legal obligations regarding labour, income tax, financing of social protection, health and safety, due diligence, and corporate social responsibility.
In the light of an emerging debate around the ‘Uberisation of care’, EPSU underlines the need to focus on the care sector and the growing number of care workers in the platform economy. Examples for care work platforms include curafides (Austria), pflegix (Germany), home care direct (Ireland), Supercarers (UK), the multi-national platforms care.com and yoopies, as well as many others. The fact that care seekers and caregivers usually meet in private spaces for highly personal encounters and the absolute dependence of the care seekers on care services makes platform-facilitated care work more delicate than other platform services.
The business models of existing care work platforms range from marketplace concepts with a subscription fee to comprehensive setups where the platform is involved in different stages of the caregiver-care seeker relationship. Some platforms only work with registered self-employed workers, while others neither offer formal employment nor demand registered self-employment. With regard to long-term care services offered through digital platforms, a 2020 report by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) raises the question whether this type of service can be provided at all without an employment relationship.
There is a high risk that platform work leads to a downgrading of labour standards for qualified carers and to unpaid working time for things such as commuting and job searching. Even though many platforms allow care workers to offer and select their tasks on their own, sorting and listing happens according to an algorithm, which diminishes the autonomy of the carers. The fact that ratings are not transferable to competing platforms aggravates workers’ dependency on the platform they work on. In contrast to many other platform services (e.g. Uber driving), care work is usually done by women, which adds a gender dimension to the debate. There is a considerable risk that platforms force women into low paid work.
EPSU calls on the Commission to present an ambitious legislative proposal which is followed by a substantive improvement in working conditions for workers in platform companies, including care workers. As a minimum it should include the presumption of an employment relationship between workers and platform companies. Proving the opposite should become the obligation of the company, not the individual worker.
The Commission should further ensure that platform companies follow the same rules as other companies in the sector, and that platform workers enjoy the same rights as every other worker. These should include health and safety provisions, the obligation for platform companies to offer training opportunities for workers, the right to collective bargaining and freedom of association, as well as the transferability of skills certificates to other platforms. EPSU further calls for more independent research in the field, which should take the particularities of platform-based care work into account.
An EPSU delegation has joined the ETUC protest on 7 October 2021.
For background information:
- Resolution by the ETUC (reply to the second phase consultation of social partners under Article 154 TFEU on possible action addressing the challenges related to working conditions in platform work, adopted at the extraordinary Executive Committee meeting of 9 September 2021).
- Report of the European Economic and Social Committee (2020): Towards the “Uber-isation” of Care? Platform work in the sector of long-term home care and its implications for workers’ rights.
- Resolution by the European Parliament on fair working conditions, rights and social protection for platform workers – new forms of employment linked to digital development (2019/2186(INI) – 16/09/2021).
- Report by EPSU on low pay in sectors dominated by women.
- Statement PSI, World Day for Decent Work, 7 October: Pandora Papers Show Where The Funding for Decent Work and Public Services is.
This text was originally published on October 6 at epsu.org.
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