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Another yellow card from Sweden – against platform work proposal

| Text: Kerstin Ahlberg

The European Commission has yet again presented a proposal that puts the Swedish labour market model at risk. That is the view of the Swedish parliament, which has decided to hand out a so-called yellow card against the proposed directive for better working conditions in platform work, presented in December. The strains from Denmark and Finland are more positive.

A minority of centre-right parties in the Swedish parliament believe that the EU should not get involved in platform workers’ conditions at all. However, a parliamentary majority argues that measures on an EU level might be needed, but that the proposal goes too far.  

One of the issues that makes platform workers’ situation difficult is the lack of clarity around whether they are workers, i.e. employees, or contractors, i.e. self-employed. This has a bearing on whether or not they are covered by labour law rules.  

Easier to workers' status

Platform companies most certainly consider them to be contractors most of the time. Yet many work in conditions that are similar to those of employees – minus employment security, health and safety protection and predictable pay.

The Commission wants to solve this problem by making it easier for platform workers to confirm what status they are entitled to. If the platform company for instance decides the pay and issues binding rules for how the work must be carried out, the worker should, as a starting point, be considered to be an employee, protected by labour law. If the platform company disagrees, the burden of proof rests with it.

But this rule goes too far and is in breach of the so-called principle of subsidiarity, i.e. the principle that the EU should take action only if the issue cannot be solved by the member states themselves, argues the Swedish parliament. That is why it has decided to issue a so-called yellow card to EU legislators. If one-third of the national parliaments issue such reservations, the Commission is forced to review its proposal.

Sweden makes the most noise

Sweden is the only Nordic country that has made such a strong intervention, however. In Denmark, which often sides with Sweden, the government has told the parliament’s European Affairs Committee that it backs member states being “given the opportunity” to introduce regulation like the one the Swedish parliament opposes. It has also said it wants to make sure the regulation will not interfere with the Danish labour market model. The Danish government also expressively supports several other proposals in the directive. 

Finland too seems to think the proposed directive is compatible with the principle of subsidiarity and the principle of proportionality, according to a communication from the cabinet minister to the Finnish parliament. When it comes to the contentious regulation, the minister treads carefully, however, and says the position on this is still under consideration.

If you read the Swedish, Danish and Finnish letters in more detail, the differences are perhaps not as big as they might seem to begin with. All three underline the importance of respecting the member states’ views of who should be considered to be employees.  

The Danish letter also contains repeated assurances that the government will work to secure that no regulations damage the Danish labour market model. It is possible that the three countries' different positions have more to do with which tactic they are considering for the coming negotiations on the directive. One is beating the drum; the two others remain more diplomatic.


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