A Webinar on the announced Digital Services Act, organised by AK EUROPA, the European Office of the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) as well as the Vienna Liaison Office in Brussels took place on 22 October 2020. As some of the current legal standards are already 20 years old and no longer meet the requirements of today’s challenges, the view of the Chamber of Labour is that new rules for online platforms are of great importance.
At the start of the event, Kenneth Haar, Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), presented a Study, which had been jointly undertaken with the AK, and which deals with the increased influence, companies, such as Uber and Airbnb have been exerting on EU policy since 2016. According to Haar, these online companies are enjoying numerous privileges within the scope of the meanwhile 20-year old Directive on electronic commerce – for example through the country-of-origin principle, the lack of control obligations or limited liability. Haar voiced his concern that these privileges would be retained, even by the Commission proposal on a Digital Services Act (DSA) announced for 2 December 2020.
This assessment was not shared by Werner Stengg, Member of the Cabinet of Digital Commissioner and Commission Vice President Margrethe Vestager. Whilst the DSA shall in particular deal with the social impact of the platform economy, new obligations for the platforms and law enforcement, the focus of the also announced Digital Markets Act/DMA was on the market power of platforms. Regarding the working conditions of platform workers, the Commission was planning to present its own proposal in the fourth quarter of 2021.
However, Isabelle Schömann, European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), regarded Haar’s assessment as perfectly realistic. She urged the Commission to create a coherent solution for the collective bargaining negotiations of the self-employed within the framework of the DSA: these had to be explicitly excluded from EU and national competition law. Schömann regards it as problematic that platforms are currently operating in a legal vacuum, bypassing basic labour law obligations and preventing fair competition.
Robert Walasinski, Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB) told of his experiences as works council member at the delivery service Foodora and the working conditions in the sector, which have been deteriorating for years – not least due to increasingly precarious employment models.
Klemens Himpele of the City of Vienna said that Vienna had been trying for years to improve the regulations for online platforms. However, in spite of amending the Tourism Promotion Act in 2016, this was difficult due to the refusal of the big platforms to provide the City with the necessary data – in particular concerning the short-term letting sector. So far, there had not been any opportunity to enforce existing provisions.
Heidrun Maier-de-Kruijff, Secretary General of the Association of Public Services and Public Enterprises of Austria (VÖWG) referred above all to the lack of insufficient taxation of online platforms such as Amazon. However, these tax revenues were – especially now – necessary to finance the stretched health systems and the economic recovery in general.
From a consumer rights point of view, Maryant Fernandez Perez, European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), demanded that the DSA had to guarantee a high level of protection for consumers. What was needed were clear liability rules for online marketplaces, comprehensive conditions for platforms, spot checks of the products and services offered as well as strong supervisory and enforcement mechanisms.
Two days before the event, the EU Parliament had adopted three initiative reports, thereby taking an ambitious position in respect of the announced legislative act. It is now up to the Commission to present an equally ambitious proposal, which does not fall short the required level of protection for workers and consumers.