As new ways of working and new technologies take hold in EU workplaces, employment relationships are also changing. For example, the internet has made teleworking a viable option for more people, and this in turn has led to new types of semi-independent employment. The changing composition of the workforce is another factor. Some women, for instance, will not necessarily want the standard, full-time workplace-based employment contract that used to be the norm. The move towards more knowledge-based jobs will also tend to impact upon employment relationships.
These changes can be positive. They can offer increased flexibility to employers and workers alike. They can also bring more people into the labour market and promote competitiveness – both of which are priority goals for the EU.
But we must ensure that new employment relationships maintain Europe’s model of strong economic and social protection for workers. At the same time, we must seize this opportunity to reconcile paid work and family life, while giving greater freedom of choice to an increasingly well-educated workforce.
“Economically dependent workers” occupy a slot somewhere between subordinate employment and independent self-employment. Economically dependent workers do not have an employment contract, and they may not be covered by labour law. Although formally “self-employed”, they depend on a single principal or client/employer for their income. This situation should be clearly distinguished from the deliberate misclassification of self-employment. Some Member States have already introduced legislative measures to safeguard the legal status of economically dependent and vulnerable self-employed workers.
Economically dependent workers are found mainly in sectors that contract tasks out, such as:
The growth of temporary agency work has led to changes in labour law in some Member States. The aim is to establish the respective responsibilities of the work provider and user enterprise for safeguarding workers’ rights. A “three-way relationship” between a user undertaking, an employee and an agency usually arises where a temporary agency worker is hired out by the agency to perform work assignments at the user firm, under a commercial contract. The resulting “dual employer” situation adds to the complexity of the employment relationship. Similar problems can arise where workers are involved in extended subcontracting chains.
A wide variety of contracts can be used to formalise an agreement for the provision of work. But they may present a technical difficulty, as the employees concerned may find themselves interacting with two (or more) interlocutors, each of whom assumes certain functions of a traditional employer. In such circumstances, it is essential that employees know who the employer is, what their rights are and who is responsible for them. It is equally important to determine the position of the user with respect to the employees of the provider enterprise.