Social security and platform work: Towards a more transparent and inclusive path

Alberto Barrio Fernandez

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Social security systems in Western Europe have been traditionally designed around the concept of the standard employment relationship, which may be defined as a “stable, open-ended and direct arrangement between a dependent, full-time employee and their unitary employer”. Non-standard forms of work, in turn, have been mostly considered part of the private ‘social security’ sphere (i.e. the family or other private income support in case of informal work or commercial relationships), and thus left generally uncovered by public labour-related social security schemes. Among all forms of non-standard work, there is one which features diverge the most from those of the standard employment relationship (and which hence may challenge social security systems at national and EU level the most): platform work. Platform work consists in the performance, in exchange for income, of on-demand short term tasks for different persons or companies by a person selected online from a pool of workers through the intermediation of an online platform.

In recent years, many academics, social partners and public officials have wondered whether and in which way platform work’s unique features may challenge social security systems. Taking into account these concerns, this thesis examines the question of what is the social security position of platform workers under the law of the EU and of selected EU countries, and how that position compares to the one of persons performing work under a standard employment relationship. At EU level, the thesis analyses the application of the EU rules for the coordination of social security, the Regulation 492/2011 and the Directive 2004/38/EC to situations of platform work. The thesis also analyses the most recent (and, arguably, most significant) effort by the EU to promote some basic minimum standards concerning the social protection of non standard workers across the EU Member States, namely the Council Recommendation on access to social protection for workers and the self employed.

The thesis demonstrates that platform workers often experience differences in their social security position when compared to the social security position of persons performing work in a standard employment relationship. In this regard, the thesis identifies significant challenges in determining the employment status of platform workers, as well as other aspects that are key for their social security position (such as how many hours or days of work they perform, or in which country their employer is located). The thesis also notes many instances in which platform workers may be excluded from formal, effective and/or adequate social security coverage due to the inherent features of platform work (such as its fragmented character and flexibility).

The thesis then relies on the abovementioned Council Recommendation and other instruments of EU law in order to determine the two social security principles that best address these differences and challenges on the social security position of platform workers, namely transparency (understood as both ‘clarity’ and ‘legal certainty’) and inclusion. The thesis ends by proposing several recommendations that may better ensure that these principles are respected as it regards platform work, such as the use, for social security purposes, of a broad concept of work that fully encompasses platform work, as well as the adaptation to the specific features of platform work of the requirements for entitlement to social security benefits.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Tilburg University
  • Schoukens, Paul, Promotor
  • Houwerzijl, Mijke, Promotor
  • Montebovi, Saskia, Co-promotor
Award date27 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021


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