Employee Monitoring and Digitalisation

Employee Monitoring

In the digital age, the monitoring and surveillance of employees present a unique set of challenges and opportunities. In this article, we delve into the implications of digitalisation on working conditions, with a particular focus on the regulation of minimum wages and other forms of pay for self-employed individuals.

The information presented here is based on a research report by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) titled “Working Conditions – Employee monitoring and surveillance: The challenges of digitalisation”.

The Intricacies of Defining Self-Employment

The definition of self-employment is a complex task due to the diverse nature of self-employed work. Self-employed individuals negotiate fees independently with clients or co-contractors. However, the power dynamics in these negotiations can vary significantly. Some self-employed individuals have significant bargaining power, while others, such as those who depend on a single client, may find themselves in a situation of economic dependence and low autonomy.

This economic vulnerability can lead to material deprivation, low incomes, and difficulties in making ends meet, increasing the likelihood of poverty and lack of social protection. This situation is particularly prevalent among those classified as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘concealed’ self-employed workers. These individuals are economically dependent because they rely on a very small number of clients. The ‘concealed’ group is most strongly characterised by low work autonomy. This lack of autonomy can lead to a lack of control over working conditions, including working hours, work intensity, and the ability to take time off.

Collective Bargaining and Competition Law: A Delicate Balance

Collective bargaining agreements between employers and employees aim to eliminate wage competition by determining wages and conditions. However, these agreements can conflict with competition law, a fundamental principle of the EU single market.

The European Court of Justice has ruled that while certain restrictions of competition are inherent in collective agreements, the social policy objectives pursued by such agreements would be seriously undermined if management and labour were subject to competition law when seeking to improve conditions of work and employment. This ruling emphasises the equal weight given to social policy objectives and competition in the EU treaty. It highlights the need for a delicate balance between ensuring fair competition and protecting workers’ rights.

Trade Union Representation for Self-Employed Individuals: A Mixed Picture

Trade union representation for self-employed individuals is allowed in 16 of the 27 EU Member States. This representation can be channelled via general trade unions or their separate branches for the self-employed. There are specific trade unions for the self-employed in 14 Member States.

However, three Member States do not allow trade union representation for the self-employed, and the law is silent on this issue in seven Member States. In some cases, the legal basis for trade union representation is provided by labour law, while in others, it is a right granted by the constitution or trade union statutes. This mixed picture highlights the need for a more uniform approach to trade union representation for the self-employed across the EU.

Collective Bargaining for the Self-Employed: A Varied Landscape

Collective bargaining for the self-employed is allowed without restrictions in Poland, while ten other EU Member States allow collective bargaining for the self-employed in exceptional cases. Nine Member States do not allow collective bargaining for the self-employed, and the remaining eight Member States do not regulate the collective bargaining rights of self-employed people.

In some cases, the legal basis for prohibiting collective bargaining for the self-employed is provided by labour law, while in others, it is provided by competition law. The lack of regulation in some countries leaves a gap in the protection of self-employed individuals. This varied landscape underscores the need for a more consistent approach to collective bargaining for the self-employed across the EU.

Statutory Minimum Wages for the Self-Employed: A Patchwork of Regulations

Thirteen Member States have statutory minimum wages or other forms of pay for the self-employed. These wages usually apply to a small number of occupations, most notably the legal or medical professions. In Hungary and Poland, a general statutory minimum wage for workers also applies to the self-employed.

However, the remaining 14 Member States do not have any statutory minimum wages or other forms of pay for the self-employed. This lack of statutory minimum wages can leave self-employed individuals vulnerable to low pay and economic instability. This patchwork of regulations highlights the need for a more comprehensive approach to statutory minimum wages for the self-employed across the EU.

Collectively Agreed Minimum Wages for the Self-Employed: A Limited Provision

Eight Member States have collectively agreed on minimum wages and other forms of pay for the self-employed. These agreements can provide a level of income security for self-employed individuals. The remaining 19 Member States do not have any collectively agreed minimum wages or other forms of pay for the self-employed.

This limited provision of collectively agreed minimum wages for the self-employed underscores the need for more widespread adoption of such agreements across the EU. These agreements can provide a crucial safety net for self-employed individuals, helping to ensure a fair wage and a decent standard of living.

Conclusion

While 14 Member States have comparatively extended rights of representation and collective bargaining rights for the self-employed, only a small number of Member States have trade union representation, rights to collective bargaining, statutory minimum wages, and collectively agreed minimum wages or other forms of pay for the self-employed.

As the digital age continues to evolve, it is crucial to continue exploring ways to improve the working conditions and pay of self-employed individuals. Policymakers must consider the unique challenges and opportunities presented by digitalisation and strive to create a fair and equitable working environment for all workers, including the self-employed. This will require a comprehensive and coordinated approach, taking into account the diverse nature of self-employed work and the need for a balance between competition and social policy objectives.

Reference:

European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2022). Working Conditions – Employee monitoring and surveillance: The challenges of digitalisation. [PDF] Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Available at: https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/sites/default/files/ef_publication/field_ef_document/ef22064en.pdf

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