The platform economy is characterised by new forms of employment, such as platform work. This particular employment form combines the features of salaried labour and self-employed activity: algorithmic, market and organisational control mechanisms allow platforms to monitor and manage the labour of platform workers. At the same time, platforms advertise this form of employment with the autonomy of platform workers in terms of the determination of the place and time of work. In this way, platforms are able to evade traditional labour relationships and contribute to a rapid spread of bogus self-employment. The new form of employment calls into question the dependent employment model, which is characterised by personal dependence on the employer as a basis not only for the inclusion into the scope of labour law, but also for the inclusion into the social insurance scheme.
The main objective of the project, which started in 2018, is to shed the light on the phenomena of platform work from labour law and social security perspectives and to analyse the possible responses to the exclusion of persons from labour and social protection in new forms of employment.
The research project can be divided into three parts. The first subproject is dedicated to analysing fundamental questions concerning the platform work as a new form of employment. It is questionable whether there is something new in the construction of platform work and the business model of online labour platforms in comparison to already existing non-standard forms of employment. The key question addressed is whether with platform work a new kind of dependence (apart from personal and economic dependence) has emerged in relation to platform providers or clients. Therefore, features of dependence of platform workers are compared with the situation in other employment categories, and court decisions concerning the employment classification of platform workers (first of all, taxi drivers and couriers) are analysed. The examination also includes a critical assessment of empirical studies and practical findings. Due to the heterogeneity of platform workers, platform work and platforms, and due to different strategies concerning the allocation of tasks (allocated by the platform, by the client or by the worker) it is not possible to define one single pattern of dependence. This new dimension of dependence is characterised through “controlling autonomy”, invisible algorithmic control as well as management control, financial and organisational incentives set by platforms, rating and recommendation systems, information asymmetries, a new form of integration into the “work organisation”, and an “overstaffing” strategy. We can thus recognise a new type of dependence, which is characterised by a mix of economic, algorithmic and personal dependence. For this reason, by means of employment classification, platform workers often fall between the cracks.
The second subpart of the project addresses possible ways to guarantee social protection to platform workers, as they are often excluded from statutory insurance schemes. Therefore, on the one hand, innovative strategies for extending the access to social protection to platform workers and their advantages and limits are investigated. On the other hand, different available strategies for extending the access to social security schemes to “non-employees” are analysed. In many European countries, social insurance schemes provide for different mechanisms of extending social protection to non-employees by disconnecting social protection from the employment status. Despite the existence of a variety of strategies, their main goal remains the same: to reflect the need for social protection. Some of the respective legislative solutions thus allow for a differentiation in the level of protection depending on the level of economic dependency of the workers (e.g. economically dependent self-employed persons and employee-like persons). The heterogeneity of platform workers, platform work and platforms, different strategies in terms of the allocation of tasks, differences with regard to whom a platform worker is dependent on, and also new kinds of dependence all require more flexible and fine-tuned solutions. The innovative strategies for extending social protection to platform workers are trying to address new groups of gainfully employed persons. At the same time, the “classical” strategies for extending social protection to “non-employees” demonstrate that they can address different groups of non-salaried workers, and different persons on the “employers’” side. These strategies have to be adjusted to new labour patterns and new forms of employment, which are often less secure and more flexible than the standard employment relationship.
The third subproject addresses the challenges that new forms of employment pose to labour and social law in Russia. Hereby, on the one hand, options concerning the labour protection of platform workers in Russia are analysed. On the other hand, taking into account that workers on demand are also in Russia classified as self-employed in case law and in practice, their situation is investigated from a social law and tax law perspective. It is worth to mention that over the last two decades, the legislator has been trying to fight the informal economy (which is a big problem in Russia) by introducing privileged tax regimes for self-employed persons (in particular “tax holidays” for special categories of self-employed persons and a tax on professional income). For this reason, access to social protection for self-employed persons in general, and for those self-employed who use privileged tax regimes in particular, is analysed. The result discloses a complex interrelationship between labour, social and tax law. Since the tax on professional income introduces a new social insurance regulation to payers of this tax, a mixture between a tax regime and an employment category for the purposes of social insurance law has emerged. In conclusion, a coordination of legislative measures and reforms in labour law, social law and tax law is seen as a way to improve the situation of workers on demand.