We have been talking about the gig economy for years, but recently, also from a regulatory standpoint, there has been an acceleration in its growth, both at Italian and European level.
The issue of the protection of digital platform workers was one of those at the centre of the State of Privacy 2022 conference organised by the Italian Data Protection Authority in Naples on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. The topic was discussed at the table that I had the burden – and honour – of chairing, guiding the discussion on a complex and evolving theme, flanked by great professionals from different sectors.
According to the EC’s data, gig workers, who today number 28 million workers in Europe, will rise to 43 million by 2025.
What emerged from the round table was the need to work on an ad hoc code of conduct, which includes a strong ethical component and pays attention to the individual, in accordance with the GDPR and in parallel with the proposed European legislation on the subject. Here are the issues that urgently need to be addressed.
The Regulatory Framework
Before the summer, a bill was presented in Italy to look after workers in this emerging sector, through which minimum levels of protection would be established and the parameters that constitute a subordinate relationship, instead of a freelance one, would be identified. Prior to this, the European Commission proposed a directive, presented in Brussels on 9 December 2021, to improve conditions for platform workers, with Elisabetta Gualmini as rapporteur for the European Parliament.
According to the EC’s data, gig workers, who today number 28 million workers in Europe, will rise to 43 million by 2025. One of the longest-standing problems, also at European level, is whether to identify gig workers as employees or as casual workers. A reference to this issue already exists in Article 22 of the GDPR, where transparency obligations should make workers aware of the presence of instruments and systems suitable for automatically monitoring data concerning them. In Italy, such conduct is also regulated by Article 4 of the Workers’ Statute.
The Need for a Code of Conduct with a Strong Ethical Component
Already from the EC’s text, it has become clear that talking about gig workers no longer includes only riders and drivers, but a much broader audience, one that extends to the entire “platform economy” and is thus composed of a myriad of different players, from widely heterogeneous markets and business models.
Moreover, the external perception that these entities are flourishing must also be reviewed considering the existing data. Since their inception, the reality of gig economy platforms (particularly those that manage riders and drivers) is that they have never made a profit. Lately, despite the positive years due to the pandemic situation, and even the investments which have so far sustained their businesses, gig economy platforms have started to be more profit-oriented after years of being content with broadening the user base. This must be considered in the balancing of rights and duties, if these businesses are to continue to exist while respecting fundamental rights.
Since their inception, the reality of gig economy platforms (particularly those that manage riders and drivers) is that they have never made a profit.
With the aim of finding a fair balance between the interests of workers, users and platforms, the round table agreed that it would be appropriate to start work on a code of conduct, pursuant to the GDPR, that would include a strong ethical component and pay attention to the individual, spreading awareness of the value of private space. In this sense, the EC’s approach – which in its proposal for a directive envisages that workers’ personal data such as their physical and psychological state, their health, or messages exchanged with other workers, including trade unionists, cannot be used – is positive.
It should be a code of conduct which should be open to constant updating, and which envisages continuous dialogue with all stakeholders, to achieve shared objectives and incentives. This instrument should also help to balance access to data for market efficiency needs, to improve service quality and efficiency, and to guarantee fundamental rights and social justice.
The EC’s approach in its proposal envisages that workers’ personal data such as their physical and psychological state, their health, or messages exchanged with other workers, including trade unionists, cannot be used.
Another request received from the table was to enhance the use of data for all stakeholders, through innovation on crucial issues such as transparency, anonymisation, sharing and the right to scientific analysis.
In this sense, the regulatory proposals already approved and under discussion in Brussels, such as those relating to the creation of intermediary data consortiums (provided for in the Data Governance Act and the Data Act) in which stakeholders participate, are a move in the right direction. Such consortiums would participate in the creation of a common good to be managed with a multi-stakeholder rule written into the code of conduct, which would facilitate the reuse of data, suitably anonymised and aggregated, as a powerful information tool for local government and business decisions.
The recent State of Privacy conference has confirmed that the role of privacy professionals is to act as mediators between regulatory and business requirements, where the driver is the protection of the individual. And the only way to find the right balance is through the collaboration of the parties, with the help of the authorities, where there are no good or bad, but many actors who want and must do the best for the collective good, for the benefit of companies, workers and users.
The article was originally published HERE.