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Global stakeholders discuss how to ensure decent platform work

On March 11, the World Employment Confederation (WEC), the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) organized an online event to discuss how to ensure decent platform work. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the issue, as the discussion exposed. But there is certainly an urgent need to better balance workers’ entitlements and employers’ interests.   

Published on 16th March 2021

Just as with all new technologies that have hit the labour market, working through online platforms has grown over the last decades. With the Covid-19 pandemic amplifying the urgency, challenges, and opportunities ‘platform work’, social partners and government need to work together to ensure it contributes to Decent Work and Economic Growth in the post-Covid environment. On March 11, the World Employment Confederation (WEC), the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) organized an online event to discuss how best to achieve that objective.

The ILO presented its recent World Employment and Social Outlook (WESO) which focuses on the topic of digital labour platforms. The report paints an exhaustive picture of the status of digital labour platforms across the world and reflects on how the contemporary platform economy is transforming the way work is organized. While the ILO does not deny the potential that digital labour platforms offer to both workers and businesses, it flags serious concerns regarding workers’ income, working conditions and social protection coverage.

The ILO’s WESO report also looks at the frameworks regulating digital labour platforms currently in place across the world. As for the diversity of platforms that exist, regulatory frameworks are also heterogenous; reinforcing the call from both the IOE and the WEC not to apply a one-size-fits-all approach. The ILO recommends international policy dialogue and coordination to find common regulatory solutions. Trade unions agree that no new framework is needed. During the webevent, the ITUC called for the framework of rights agreed in the ILO Centenary declaration in 2019 to be applied as those fundamental rights should underpin all forms of work, whether or not they are delivered through a digital platform.

Employers’ organisations fully support the need for platform work to be decent work. The WEC pointed out to the many examples of online talent platforms using the potential offered by the technology to provide decent work opportunities and access to labour market to more people, especially in vulnerable groups like people with disabilities. And the private employment services sector can also rely on the experience gained in the agency work sector where through social innovation, new ways of training, providing social protection and ensuring good working conditions have been developed for a more flexible form of work.

Another clear potential offered by digital platforms is to reduce informality, the IOE pointed. India is one country very engaged in tackling this issue and a representative of the Labour Ministry shared what India is currently doing to regulate platform work while ensuring it offers opportunities for formal, decent work. One difficulty flagged by the government representative is the definition of platform and of activities to be covered by the regulation, but also which benefits and rights should be given to platform workers and how to balance those entitlements with interests of employers.

The IOE pointed out to another challenge that need to be addressed if the potential of platform work is to be fully tapped. 60% of people in developing countries still don’t have access to technology. What kind of infrastructure – but also skills – need to be develop to reduce this digital gap?

Ultimately whatever the type of regulation being applied to platform work, enforcement and compliance will also be essential. It is critical that digital platforms do not expand outside the rule of law. It is not only important for workers but it also in the interest of fair competition for those businesses which respect the law, said ITUC. WEC also underlined how similar services should face the same requirements, whether delivered digitally or not. As the ILO sums up, “what is unacceptable in the analog work should also be unacceptable in the digital world”.

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