Will the new EU initiative protect platform workers from the negative effects of AI and algorithmic management on working conditions?

Uber Driver Photo by Arseniy Svynarenko

by Arseniy Svynarenko, Mikko Perkiö, Benta Mbare, and Meri Koivusalo

Algorithmic management is increasingly important for occupational wellbeing. This is reflected in the Italian court ruled in January 2021 against Deliveroo’s rider-ranking algorithm in the case that was brought by a group of delivery workers and the Italian General Confederation of Labour. The platform’s algorithmic management system applied profiled and evaluated the “reliability” of a worker. The platform didn’t ask if workers were sick or had an emergency and the algorithm automatically downgraded those delivery workers who failed to cancel pre-scheduled shifts. This automatic algorithmic decision had a significant impact on workers’ access to work. A similar practice is in place in one of the food delivery platforms in Finland.

In February 2021, the District Court of Amsterdam issued a default judgment ordering Uber to reinstate five UK drivers and one Dutch driver that were dismissed solely on the basis of automated processing. That was one of the first court cases on platform workers’ access to work brought under EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Article 22 “Automated individual decision-making, including profiling”.

The court cases signal the importance of algorithmic management to the platform economy and its workers. At the end of 2021, the European Commission has proposed a draft Directive on Improving Working Conditions in Platform Work. The directive offers an important step forward regulation of platform work and algorithmic management. The Directive raises the issues of i) improving transparency of use of algorithms, ii) fairness in requirements for obligatory human monitoring of automated decisions that may significantly affect workers working conditions, and iii) accountability for automated decisions so that these can be challenged.

You have to take this ride. Otherwise, you may be blocked.

The Commission’s draft Directive aims at increasing transparency in the operation of labour platforms. It is rather common that on-location labour platforms in taxi and food delivery sectors do not provide drivers and delivery workers with sufficient information on how they monitor their workers and how the platform makes the decisions that directly affect their work. Who is involved in making these decisions? Adopting the new Directive on working conditions in platform work in its current version would make platforms more open to workers, civil society, and regulators.

They downgrade you as a driver. While I don’t know what the effects would be at the end of the day. … you have to take this ride. Otherwise, you may be blocked. (Food delivery worker, Tampere)

The application of algorithmic management differs between platform companies, but most require some management to ensure monitoring and follow-up of tasks. Many drivers and delivery workers interviewed in our research have expressed difficulties in understanding how the platforms work. They know that in many cases a low rating, a damaged car, or a customer’s complaint may lead to automatic deactivation. Rejecting tasks assigned automatically may lead to losing priority points (affecting working time autonomy or access to some of the platform’s features thereby limiting work methods autonomy) or temporary deactivation. Sometimes losing access to work comes without proper explanations, disclosure of significant factors that influenced the automatic decision, and without the possibility for a worker to present their own position or challenge the decision. Lack of sufficient information on how the work is managed by the platform leaves a ride-hailing driver or a food delivery worker with very little work autonomy, e.g. ability to make decisions on how and when to work.

Furthermore, some workers seem to be confused about their status and role in business. This includes treating the tech support team of the platform company as their managers. Replacing human management with algorithmic management may lead to diffusion of responsibility for workers’ protections. Treating platform workers as independent contractors further distances the platform from any responsibility for the wellbeing of the worker, including adequate insurance cover for work-related accidents.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

A few decades ago public discussions were mostly concerned with robots replacing humans on assembly lines. Now robots are used in management utilizing software and data-based automation, which has become especially visible in platform work.  A broad range of issues arises from this rapidly growing sector of technology: from innovation and business transformation to people’s rights to social security and an adequate standard of living.

European Commission (EC) draft for Directive on improving the working conditions of platform work was tabled on 9th of December 2021.  It builds on previous initiatives and growing recognition of the impact of AI and algorithmic management on people. The key EU regulation regarding algorithmic management is General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was adopted in 2016. The EC communication on Artificial Intelligence for Europe touches upon the issues of AI impact on employment. In the White Paper on AI (2020) the Commission presented its policy outlines for the AI. In it, the EC declared the aims of achieving an ‘ecosystem of excellence’ (promoting the development of AI) and an ‘ecosystem of trust’ (ensuring compliance with EU rules and addressing the risks associated with AI). The Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Acts proposed in 2020 also cover several issues specific to algorithmic management, including algorithmic decision-making and human review, transparency, and explainability.

The provisions on algorithmic management build on previous work on data protection. In 2016 the GDPR treated humans as data subjects and focuses on how the data is collected and used. Digital Market and Digital Services Acts have addressed primarily the potential of innovation in the sphere of AI and its impact on the future of European businesses and economy.

The EC draft proposal highlights the necessity of clear communication between a) companies who use algorithmic management and b) their workers who are affected by the AI irrespective of employment status. Platform workers must be made aware that AI is involved, and their representatives (unions and other public organisations) must be informed how the AI and algorithmic management are affecting workers in the workplace.

Currently, these initiatives set the framework for regulation and European-wide action. A key in this process is to what extent the focus will shift towards workers and their rights in the platform economy. The draft proposal is likely to face substantial lobbying and yet it already represents a compromise. The importance of the proposed draft directive will depend 1) on how governments will take it further, 2) on how the technical side of the AI will define the level of transparency of AI, and 3) how standardisation of data and reporting will be addressed. There will be substantial scope for not only lobbying, but utilisation and creation of loopholes and technological escape routes within the fast-developing context of AI and algorithmic management.

The Commission proposal will be subject to full scrutiny. Due to commercial importance of AI, algorithms, data, and trade secrets, there is a risk that political compromise will water down the potential of the proposal to lead to actual improvements in working conditions.

Power, responsibility, and accountability  

So far most of reactions on the draft of the directive have been focused on the employment status of platform workers with less focus on algorithmic management. While algorithmic management remains part of the means for defining employment relationship, the proposed directive would apply in this respect also to contractors.

In the Article 6 of the proposed directive on improving working conditions in the platform economy, the EC requires labour platforms to provide workers (irrespective of employment status) with information about automated monitoring systems and decision-making systems which ‘significantly affect’ working conditions. The Article 7 of the proposed directive mandates human monitoring of automated systems’ impact on working conditions.

The GDPR covers a set of rights of data subjects. The draft directive mostly draws from the GDPR. Articles 6 and 7 of the proposed directive on improving working conditions in the platform economy are based on rights of data subjects presented in the GDPR (GDPR Art. 22 on automated individual decision-making, including profiling).  Further focus on shaping the rules of the digital economy has been sought at European level also through the EU AI act proposed in 2021. The proposal for the AI Act was presented as part of  the ”coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications of AI”, but it does not mention those individuals who are affected by AI. Nonetheless, the AI act has been praised for recognizing that the AI and algorithmic decision-making are increasingly integrated into functioning of social safety nets and affect social and economic rights. However, at the same time the AI Act also represents a missed opportunity to address the plight of workers affected by the use of AI.


The proposed Directive on improving the working conditions of platform work recognises that algorithmic management and broader specificities of use of worker’s data has a significant impact on workers’ rights and wellbeing. The Directive offers a set of measures to be applied by platforms and involved parties in to safeguard the rights of platform workers. These measures recognize: 1) the complexity of algorithmic management, 2) the lack of transparency of digital labour platforms, and 3) the need for human intervention with the decisions that have a significant impact on working conditions and wellbeing of platform workers.

The proposed Directive offers scope for increasing transparency, strengthening trust, and balancing the power between the digital labour platforms and workers. The question is how much the legislative process will water down what is currently proposed while leaving out key areas or creating mechanisms to bypass requirements.  

It is essential that further legal initiatives will offer rules for proper standardisation of technical reporting in the AI and will clearly define the rights of government agencies and workers’ organisations to assess the AI tools used by the various business or public entities in their management of workers. The implementation of the proposed Directive will depend also on the outcomes of the other legislative processes under multilevel governance. This will offer further scope for lobbying and amending technical documents.

It is justified that addressing occupational impacts of AI and algorithmic management begins with the platform work, where AI has the most pervasive influence. The proposal for the directive on working conditions of platform workers has potential to make a step further in regulation of working conditions for all workers in the age of AI. The question is how large or small it will be.

Definition game – from partners to customers?

by Meri Koivusalo, Mikko Perkiö, Arseniy Svynarenko, and Benta Mbare

In this blog we focus on the debate concerning employment status and how the new European Commission proposals on improving working conditions in platform work relate to this on the ground of our research on platform work. We examine some key elements in the Commission proposal, and reactions from companies and trade unions suggesting challenges and way forward.

Partner, employee, or customer

As part our research of working condition in platform economy we have interviewed dozens of Uber drivers and food delivery workers. The employment status is one of one of the most crucial and at the same time complicated issues. There are very few examples of platforms adopting the employment model.

When transportation platforms claim that workers are “partners”, the level of actual control over workers create the situation when workers perceptions of own status and consequently knowledge of own rights is by far more confused. For instance, one labour platform on its webpage addresses its potential couriers with a slogan “Be your own boss”, presuming that it offers a flexible work and high level of worker’s autonomy. In interviews with platform workers the most common message we received was: “Seriously, I still consider <Platform> is my boss!”.

However, recently Juhani Mykkänen, who is one of founders of food delivery company Wolt, has added another level of complexity to the status definition. Mykkänen described Wolt platform as the customer of the courier:

“Does a gig worker have the opportunity to build their own clientele or work for someone else?

– Here it is important to understand what the customer is, Mykkänen says. – Many people think that the courier’s customer is the one who ordered food, but it is not so in our case. Wolt is a customer of a courier. And a courier may have other customers like Foodora, Yango or Uber. And there’s nothing stopping you from making your own deals with a restaurant. He is completely free to build his own clientele.”

European Commission proposals on improving working conditions in platform work addresses exactly this question: when a platform worker is an employee and when not.

European dimension of platform work

European Commission has now provided for a communication, proposal for a directive and guidelines concerning collective bargaining, which will all proceed to wider scrutiny. The key issue in the process has been employment status for people working through digital labour platforms. The European Commission has set responsibilities and obligations clearly on the side of digital platforms in leaving rebuttal of the presumption of employment to them.

The relevance of the proposal will relate to the prior regulatory framework of the markets as well as other national policies. For example, unlike food delivery, the taxi sector has stronger traditions in Finland and rests on solo-entrepreneur model. Requiring any digital ride hailing platform (e.g. Uber) to become an employer for drivers may be a challenge. Drivers are free to choose if they what to work with an online platform or as a regular taxi with or without dispatcher service (unlike in the UK, Finnish drivers are not segregated in unequal categories). In our opinion, it is unlikely that employment provisions will hit hard those sectors and practices, where national history and practice has been based on entrepreneurship and sector specific regulation. Allowing the collective agreements for self-employed may strengthen driver-entrepreneurs position in relation to digital platforms. There will also be more challenges related to algorithmic management and other aspects of the proposal. It remains to be seen to what extent further discussions on employment status of platform workers may lead towards introduction of the 3rd employment category specific for platform work. However, as consequences of such measures could be far wider, we share the views of trade unions that the 3rd employment category should be avoided.

The crucial issue is how requirements for employment /non-employment are defined and on what grounds the fulfilment of two of them are set in practice in the context of national actions.

What is proposed?

On December 9th 2021, the European Commission announced not one but a package of initiatives for the regulation of platform economy. These include a Communication, a draft directive and draft guidelines for consultations. The proposed Directive on improving working conditions of platform work is based on Article 153 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and thus set under Article 151 on social policy, which in terms of Commission powers gives substantial scope for national level. DG Competition draft Guidance on the application of EU competition law to collective agreements supports the directive through refraining from action, though it remains draft for consultation. As the European Commission has finally spoken, the case provides an important testing ground for European policies on shaping its digital economy. The policy process will either show the potential for social Europe or the power of corporate and interest group lobbying on European level action.

The definition of the contractual relationship between the digital labour platform and a worker is based on the presumption of employment on the ground of control of work. This is defined further on the ground of fulfilment of at least two out of five criteria (Article 4.2). According to the proposal the worker is thus an employee when a platform is controlling the performance of worker by: “(1) effectively determining, or setting upper limits for the level of remuneration (Authors: i.e. setting prices or ceiling for charges) ; (2) requiring the person performing platform work to respect specific binding rules with regard to appearance, conduct towards the recipient of the service or performance of the work; (3) supervising the performance of work or verifying the quality of the results of the work including by electronic means; (4) effectively restricting the freedom, including through sanctions, to organise one’s work, in particular the discretion to choose one’s working hours or periods of absence, to accept or to refuse tasks or to use subcontractors or substitutes; (5) effectively restricting the possibility to build a client base or to perform work for any third party”.

How these criteria are defined in practice will be of major interest for the platform companies. They may seek to influence the final directive and make its focus or the interpretation of the requirements narrow. Platform companies could also try to interpret their own activities in ways which would leave them outside requirements. This can be achieved, for example, by defining control and the nature of their work in ways, which could escape the requirements. The politics is thus likely to result in a definition game on what is included under requirements, how these are understood and how company practices can be described and understood.

The definition game

Criticism of employment criteria remains a key complaint for Uber and Bolt, which have criticized the presumption of employment and tight criteria for classification of platforms workers as employees. In the opinion of representatives of these two companies the employment of ride-hailing drivers will “sacrifice the flexibility and efficiency of platform work”. The same argument Uber used in its campaign against Prop.22 in California in November 2020. This argument is rather weak as zero-hour contracts would allow for flexibility, justify the control, and offer the employee protections, which would not be available as self-entrepreneur. Employment status would move costs from drivers to Uber.

The challenge for the Commission proposal is that corporations are likely to seek a compromise from the “worker” status adopted in United Kingdom, which resonates with the California case. This is reflected in the Uber commentary emphasising that: “As countries including France have demonstrated, there is a better way and any EU-wide rules should allow drivers and couriers to retain the flexibility we know they value most, while allowing platforms to introduce more protections and benefits.” This articulation would move towards a solution where platform companies are supportive to a more market-based private sector driven task-based social security and insurance policies, which may give the platform companies also potential income and benefits from cooperation . For instance, Uber has already teamed with AXA.

The situation is slightly different with food deliveries as some companies have accepted employment status and problems are also more prominent with food delivery couriers. German-based Delivery Hero, which owns Foodora and a few other food delivery platforms in Europe, criticized the strict criteria for reclassification platform workers as employees. Foodora is known for applying very tight controls over delivery workers, while calling them independent contractors.It is likely that requirement on employment provisions would hit hardest on food delivery sector and practices involved with the industry, even though directive could bring some clarification that these companies can benefit.

Some companies have also sought for European level regulatory clarification. This is reflected in views of Just Eat Takeaway.com and Wolt, which welcomed the EU Commission’s proposal. Just Eat Takeaway.com already employs delivery workers. Wolt, more recently acquired by American Door Dash, is known to impose very light control over delivery workers. The positive spin is evident in the comments by Olli Koski, who described it as “a really good proposal that will truly improve the position of the couriers”. However, this positive approach was combined with Wolt’s talk of itself as “customer” to couriers, which may be of more importance in telling us where this line of argument is going. This hints more to a wish to move its operations under platform2business regulation, through establishing a situation where couriers are customers, which use the services provided by the platform. This implies self-employment instead employment.

The language game extends also to the positioning of what employee or entrepreneur would imply through polarising these as “full-time employment” vs.  “freedoms of an entrepreneur”, which is present in the reaction of platform company Bolt: “The proposal made by the Commission means that hundreds of thousands of ride-hailing drivers and delivery couriers would lose the opportunity of platform work, as platforms would be forced to shift to an exclusive full-time employment model.”  The polarisation of options thus creates an image, where ”flexibility” becomes possible only for entrepreneurs.


Not all platform workers are equal. For example, unlike taxi drivers the delivery workers are much more dependent on platforms and often more confused of their own worker status and their labour rights. They are called “partners” but treated as employees, with often lower net wage than a real employee and with extensive self-responsibility on social protection. In this respect the new EU regulation would clarify their status and offer needed protections. It is highly likely that in the process of adaptation of new directive the large platform companies will continue the language games, playing with definitions for workers-partners-customers. The false narrative of flexibility and efficiency vs employment is already circulating in the reactions to the proposal.

The Commission has offered a set of criteria for defining worker within the dichotomy of employee and genuinely self-employed. This will be a challenge for the platform companies with a danger that in the process of adaptation of this new regulation the tech companies and other lobbyists may water down some of the important novelties in the Commission’s proposals. Lobbyists may bring in compromise proposals which can resemble what previously was known as third category or merely shift the language on requirements enough to escape its reach. However, it is clear that for Social Europe the proposal has been one step ahead. Even if it has not been as large step as many hoped, it is still a reminder that Social Europe exists.  

In the next blog we will look into Commission’s proposals on algorithmic management in platform work.

Sivistysvaltion pääkaupungin ytimeen pitää varmistaa asialliset taksipalvelut. HS, lukijan mielipide

Asema-aukion taksijonoon kannattaisi ottaa mallia Helsinki-Vantaan lentoasemalta.

Taksialan uudistuksessa alalle on tullut paljon uusia toimijoita. Ohentunut sääntely ja raivoisa kilpailu asiakkaista aiheuttavat levottomuutta, samalla kun korona on vähentänyt kyytejä.

Taksilain uudistuksessa tavoitteena oli lisätä asiakkaan valinnanvapautta. Nykyisin eroja onkin niin tilaustavoissa, hinnoissa kuin tunnettuudessakin.

Moni kokee turvattomuutta ottaessaan taksia Helsingin Asema-aukion taksitolpalta. Siellä on haastavaa sovittaa kaksi periaatetta yhteen: jonotus ja asiakkaan valinnanvapaus. Jonossa eteenpäin pääsy parantaa taksinkuljettajan mahdollisuuksia saada asiakas, koska osa asiakkaissa ottaa jonossa ensimmäisen.

Mutta osa asiakkaista valitsee taksin esimerkiksi firman tunnettuuden, hinnan, auton tai kuljettajan perusteella tolppajonosta taaempaa. Myös tälle asiakkaalle ja autolle on taattava esteetön ja asianmukainen reitti kohti määränpäätä.

Helsinki-Vantaan lentoasemalla onnistuttiin luomaan asialliset puitteet taksien valinnanvapaudelle usean jonon menetelmällä. Myös Tampereen rautatieasemalla taksin valinta sujuu.

Miten varmistaa sivistysvaltion pääkaupungin ytimeen asialliset menettelytavat kuljetuspalveluun? Moninaistunut ja jännitteinen taksiala ei näytä pystyvän itsesäätelyn keinoin varmistamaan turvallista valinnanvapautta, siksi viranomaisten olisi tarpeellista tukea tilannetta Helsingin rautatieasemalla. Selkeät käytännöt ja hyvät tavat voivat myös vähentää rasismia. Turvallinen taksinkäyttö on koko alan etu. 

Kun taksialalla on yhdestä pakosta päästy, ei alalle kannata päästää syntymään uusia pakkoja ja blokkeja. Jonojen käsirysyn sijaan hinnoittelu tarjoaa mahdollisuuden reiluun kilpailuun. Kaupunkien taksinkäytöllä on kasvun varaa, kunhan arkitaksista tehdään riittävän edullinen.

Mikko Perkiö

Arseniy Svynarenko

taksialan tutkijoita, Tampereen yliopiston RRR-Uber-tutkimusryhmä

Lähde: https://www.hs.fi/mielipide/art-2000006698323.html

COVID-19 & Delivery Workers: health risks and essential help in the same package

Delivery blog

Mikko Perkiö, Arseniy Svynarenko, Benta Mbare and Victor Savi.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the measures adopted by many governments and cities resulted in slowing down urban life, closing businesses, and locking people into their homes. Social distancing works for public good and it increases the need for efficient grocery and food delivery services. These services help solving public health problems though they include critical health and social protection aspects themselves.

Increased demand for grocery delivery

Most typically, the ‘flatten the curve’ policy included various limitations on mobility of people (without interrupting transportation of goods), closure of educational premises and other public venues. Private services such as restaurants and bars can either be ordered to complete closure or their kitchens are allowed to serve food to clients at home through various delivery platforms. Many countries, regions and cities have gone into a complete lockdown or even curfews. The reports published recently by Google or Apple demonstrate COVD-19 epidemic affected urban mobility in various parts of the world.

Picture 1. Changes in urban mobility on March 29th, 2020 when compared to a median value for the corresponding day of the week, in early February in Lazio region (Italy), Greater London (UK), New York (USA), Uusimaa region (Finland) Stockholm County (Sweden). Source: Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Report).

When people are advised to stay at their homes for longer period of time this eventually leads to an increase in demand for delivery services: someone has to bring groceries, ready food, medicine and other online purchases to people at their homes. In the US, Russia, and some other countries the governments have defined delivery work as part of essential critical infrastructure at the time of crisis and allowed delivery people (who can confirm that they carry on their assignments) freely move disregards the lockdowns (CISA, 2020)

Continue reading at Alusta.