BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission said on Monday it wants more social protection and rights for workers on short-term and other non-standard contracts to tackle growing inequality.
The Commission’s consultation document on these plans is part of a broader reworking of EU economic priorities under pressure from populist critics who accuse Brussels of having pursued ultra-liberal policies to the detriment of workers.
The document proposes a substantial review of EU social rights that could partly limit employment flexibility and ease insecurity caused by new types of “gig economy” jobs offered by firms like Uber [UBER.UL] and food-delivery service Deliveroo.
Brussels is proposing to extend full social protection and other forms of security to all workers, including those on very short-term, part-time and zero-hour contracts who in some EU member countries have lower safeguards.
“We want that people are aware of their rights and have basic social rights and social protection,” EU Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen told a news conference on Monday.
“We need rules adapted to new forms of works, with adequate protection,” she added.
Most EU workers have full-time, permanent contracts but a growing number, especially the young, have jobs with ultra-flexible working hours, no regular pay and fewer employment protections.
They accounted for more than one third of the total work force in the 28-country bloc in 2015 and that share is growing, the commission said in its consultation paper.
Most of these employees have to work under these conditions in absence of alternatives, the document said.
Non-standard workers tend to have lower levels of social and health security and some new contracts, such as casual or voucher-based work, are even more worrying, according to the commission’s document.
The Commission’s proposals could raise costs for companies like Uber, which is already facing legal disputes in several EU countries and has not had its license renewed in London..
The Commission is proposing that workers should be properly informed about the conditions of their employment and given explanations by employers for not having a permanent contract after a few years in the same job.
Casual workers should also be entitled to a minimum number of guaranteed hours “after a predefined continuous period,” the Commission said.
But the enhanced protection would not be applicable to self-employed workers, which could provide a loophole for employers such as Uber and Deliveroo.
Uber says its drivers are self-employed, although in Britain this categorization has recently been challenged by the government.
Other non-standard work contracts like paid traineeships and temporary agency work, are also under the Commission’s scrutiny as, it said, they “continue to present challenges from the point of view of job security and adequate working conditions”.
To curb abuses linked to these forms of contracts, Brussels wants to introduce a maximum duration of employee probation.
The Commission will initially discuss its plans with trade unions and employers, then make legislative proposals if no agreement is reached among them in the coming weeks.
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) welcomed the proposals and called for them to be translated into binding rules. There should be a minimum number of hours guaranteed from the first day for casual workers and more safeguards for workers during probation periods, the ETUC said.
BusinessEurope, the European employers’ organization, said it would assess the consultation document and make its position known by November.
Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Mark Heinrich