Putting people first in Europe's Coronavirus recovery plans

If the EU wants to emerge from the crisis as a winner, then it must invest in people, not big business, argues Agnes Jongerius.
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By Agnes Jongerius

10 Jun 2020

Step by step, emergency measures are being down-scaled across EU Member States. In my own country, the Netherlands, schools have returned and in Belgium, shops have reopened. In Spain, people are allowed to exercise outside again. These moves offer some perspective on the COVID-19 crisis and the possibility to think about what we should do afterwards. We know the impact of the crisis on our everyday lives will not be over soon.

The European Commission predicts that almost one in ten Europeans will become unemployed this year. Behind these statistics are parents who want to provide for their children, youngsters who seek to start a career, elderly people about to retire, someone who wanted to fulfil their dreams. We must do our utmost to minimise the impact. People should be supported to stay in work, getting new work or keeping their businesses going.


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At the same time, we must tackle growing inequalities and increasing poverty, draw lessons from the previous financial crisis that austerity only deepens our problems, and invest in people. Within the MFF, it is the European Social Fund, the Globalisation Adjustment Fund and the Youth Employment Initiative that will enable us to get people through this crisis, and we need to allocate our resources accordingly. We have seen that certain groups have been hit hard or have been overlooked during the crisis.

Cross-border workers are not being helped properly and people still falling through the cracks of national emergency measures. European labour migrants across the EU are still working and living in unsafe conditions by temporary agencies where they easily can become infected with by COVID-19. No measures to prevent this are being taken. I urge the European Labour Authority, together with its Member States counterparts, to begin inspecting these practices and bringing them to an end.

"We must tackle growing inequalities and increasing poverty, draw lessons from the previous financial crisis that austerity only deepens our problems, and invest in people"

This reinforces my view that we need to revise the 2008 Temporary Agency Directive, as temporary agencies structurally seem to misbehave. We need to regulate this sector with proper conditions, before they can enter the European markets. Another group that I would like to highlight are Platform Workers. With everyone in lockdown, delivery workers are racing against the clock to deliver meals, books and products.

Since online platforms unilaterally label them as self-employed, delivery workers are not insured for sickness. It really does make one wonder who is benefiting here. Large platform companies want to make us believe that they are only tech companies matching supply and demand, while avoiding any responsibilities for their workers.

However, with their apps, ratings, pricing and algorithms, they are able to direct platform workers. Which makes me think that when big companies are able to direct someone’s every move, are their workers truly self-employed? Taxi platform Uber recently fired thousands of customer service employees during a three-minute Zoom conference, in response to the crisis. If this is how they treat their staff, how much do they then care about their so-called ‘partners’?

We should prevent this from becoming a blueprint for platform work. Platforms need to take their responsibility, whether they like it or not. It is time to set this straight and to bring responsibilities in the platform economy into balance. Therefore, I would like to propose to reverse the burden of proof of an employment relationship in the platform economy.

"We have to make sure that we bring everyone along with us on Europe’s sustainable transition. The only way to ‘go sustainable’ is to do it in a socially responsible way"

A platform worker is deemed to be an employee, unless this legal assumption can be rebutted by the platform - which has all relevant information of both the worker and the recipient of the provided services - within a court. Our demands are ready and we call upon the Commission to come up with a directive for fair platform work. The COVID-19 crisis began as a health challenge and has turned into an economic challenge.

Meanwhile the climate emergency is far from over. The European Green Deal actually invests in society and will also have to invest in people. We have to make sure that we bring everyone along with us on Europe’s sustainable transition. The only way to ‘go sustainable’ is to do it in a socially responsible way. These challenges may appear insurmountable. But as the European Union has shown time and time again, we can handle more than people might think.

There has been a change in narrative. We cannot ignore the wishes and needs of people, this is much clear. It should not be the multinationals and heavy polluters that come out of this crisis as winners. People and the environment should take precedence, not multinationals. We must ensure that we deliver a fair and sustainable society once the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Read the most recent articles written by Agnes Jongerius - Updating the posting of workers directive is vital

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