The European Union must take leadership to regulate working conditions in the so-called platform economy, such as food delivery services through mobile phone applications to safeguard new forms of precarious employment, UHM Voice of the Workers is insisting.

“Any model which seeks to bypass the established roles whereby workers are neither self-employed in full control of their business, nor employees enjoying all benefits and protection dictated by law such as sick leave and minimum hourly payment rates, immediately rings the alarm bells,” UHM CEO Josef Vella remarked.

The emergency of this economic sector has gained momentum following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic which resulted in restrictions on mass events and a drastic reduction in seating capacities to guarantee social distance. Faced by this new reality catering establishments, restaurants and food outlets had to reinvent their business model to keep afloat by introducing delivery services operated through mobile phone applications owned by third parties.

This innovative concept gave an economic lifeline to this sector and offered a degree of flexibility to the couriers who are on the ground doing the deliveries. On the other hand, the status of these employees who are engaged as self-employed, provide their own transport, but at the same time receive orders through the mobile application operated by third parties has created a legal grey area. This applies to the minimum hourly payment rates, sick leave as well as occupational health and safety.

“A decade ago, it was cleaners and security officers being offered substandard conditions through outsourcing arrangement, in what turned out to be more of a precarious employment. It seems history could be repeating itself with the platform economy,” Vella warned.

“UHM has no issue with the use of technology to render a better service, give greater flexibility to workers, and provide new streams of revenue for companies,

as long as this is done in line with parameters established by employment laws,” he added.

In this respect, the UHM CEO called for an effort at EU level given that the issue is cropping up across all member states.

“There needs to be a coordinated response by Brussels before it is too late, especially in the wake of the fact that the platform economy has come of age by the Covid-19 outbreak,” the UHM CEO remarked.

Last month the government raised its concerns at EU Council level during an informal meeting under the Germany Presidency. UHM emphasized with Minister Carmelo Abela for an EU wide legislation to ensure a fair labour market and a level playing field, a remark that was highlighted by Minister Abela in the said council meeting.

The platform economy poses challenges and opportunities for society, the labour market and organisations which can no longer be placed on the backburner.