Webinar “The digitalisation of work – what‘s law got to do with it?“

With Assoc. Prof. Dr. Martin Gruber-Risak

On June 3, the first webinar for the project “DiDaNet” (“Digital Danube Network”) took place and was organised by the lead partner in the project.

Assoc. Professor Martin Gruber-Risak, Austria's leading legal expert on the digitalisation of work, introduced the topic in a video which was sent to registered participants from Austria, Serbia, Slovenia and the Ukraine. This way, the time for the webinar was well used for a question and answer session.

While the presentation gave an overview of the present state of play and discussed issues such as developments during the Covid-19 pandemic, employment relationship vs. self-employment, temporal and spatial flexibility pertaining to working conditions and platform work, the question and answer session provided a welcome opportunity to delve deeper into the topics of even more recent evolvements of the corona virus crisis relating to home office and recent challenges of platform work.

Many of the questions in the session focussed on the increase in platform work with emphasis on the situation of bike couriers who deliver food (“riders”). Two main problems were revealed: the lack of health and safety measures for the riders as well as their employment status. Are they in fact employees and not freelancers? Are the people who run the platform in fact employers who are responsible for the riders’ health and safety at work? These questions also led to further questions such as who is responsible for social security contributions? Professor Gruber-Risak mentioned that the platform should be obligated to deduct social security contributions directly. In the European directive – the Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Directive at a definition of the concept of “employee” is given but it is based on an old case. When efforts were made to modernise this concept, it was rebuked by the European Council giving the reason that employees are to be defined nationally. Professor Gruber-Risak argues that it would definitely make sense to extend some provisions to self-employed workers.

Another very relevant topic was also discussed –the pros and cons of home office. Flexibility; and, in light of the current lockdown, the ability to protect oneself by distancing were definitely elements on the “pro” side. The “cons” of home office, where in fact, contrary to popular belief, an increase in working hours, the burden of homeschooling and housework alongside of professional duties as well safety at work, e.g. what happens when you have an accident at home during home office hours? [In this case, new legislation was adopted that an accident at home during home office was clearly considered an accident at work.]

The last point that Professor Gruber-Risak brought up was the fact that due to the swift lockdown measures taken by the Austrian government, workers were catapulted into home office without much preparation or warning so they were unable to negotiate certain terms, compensation or materials for home office. This experience however, was a good opportunity to observe what measures are required for fair home office work in the future.