Letter from LO-President, Lizette Risgaard, to the Danish newspaper JP on 9 October 2017.
Is there any work for me today? This was a question many workers asked themselves at the time when it was normal to be a day labourer. Many such workers got up early in the morning and went down to the harbour, for example, in the hope that they would be among the lucky few to get a day?s work.
Many lived with the constant uncertainty of not knowing if they could find enough work to feed the family. But, eventually, enough workers united to put an end to such conditions and they are now the exception to the rule in Denmark.
And this is how it should remain – also when it comes to the digital labour market of the future.
The business models of the past will not lead us into the future
Today, we meet again in the Disruption Council. We will discuss how we can get better at using new technologies and business models. And the government will present its long-awaited strategy for the platform economy.
As a lead-in to this meeting, I would therefore like to remind the government of the Council?s main purpose, i.e. to discuss ?what it takes to maintain and further develop a labour market with decent working conditions and without social dumping? in which ?the benefits of the development are shared equally.?
Seeking profit is not ?sharing?
I believe that the platform economy can become a good supplement if we can agree to create a decent version of it. But how do we ensure that the new platforms make room for more ?free spirits? instead of creating digital day labourers?
First and foremost, it is important to distinguish between the two concepts ?sharing economy? and ?platform economy?. Because, normally, you don?t use the word ?share? to describe something that you make money from. The new phenomenon is profit-seeking digital platforms. It would be a false trade description to define them as part of the ?sharing economy?.
Legislators, police and employers need to gear up
The digital nature of the platforms and their quick development makes it hard for both employers and law enforcement to keep up. This is a huge problem that we have to fix.
At the same time, it is crucial that the employers organise the platforms that have an actual employers’ liability in order to ensure that they enter into a collective agreement. Many mistakenly believe that platform workers are self-employed. A UK-tribunal has established that Uber can be considered as an employer. In the ruling, the judges emphasize this in no uncertain terms by stating that ?the notion that Uber in London is a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ?platform? is to our minds faintly ridiculous.? The case has been appealed, but the message is very clear.
Uber is not the only platform. Other platforms are organised differently. For example, some platforms can be compared to a ?Craigslist? for self-employed persons. But many platforms will, in effect, be employers and can, typically, be described as temporary work agencies.
Fair conditions could make the platform economy flourish
A decent version of the platform economy necessitates proper payment of taxes, insurance and clear-cut guidelines that place limitations on the often unreasonable ?ratings? imposed on the workers. Failure to do so represents unfair competition against regular companies and their employees. I hope this will be part of the long-awaited strategy from the government.
We are already seeing how some of the new Danish platform start-ups are moving in the right direction when it comes to pay and working conditions. In the trade union movement, we have a constructive dialogue with many platforms such as Hilfr, MePloy, Burd and Chapper. The new Danish platform start-ups have acknowledged that decent conditions lead to consumers embracing their business model fully. However, we still have a long way to go.
We will get there once the politicians have provided the right framework. Once the employers have organised the new platform companies in employers? associations. And once we, in the trade union movement, have organised the platform workers.
The Prime Minister often says that we should lead the way into the future. And this is exactly why we must not let the business models of the future repeat the mistakes of the past. The trade union movement is ready – are the government and the employers?