Online and Mobile Labour Markets, how disruptive are they from a Belgian Labour Law perspective?

For the purpose of: Call for Papers – International Conference, “Reshaping Work in the Platform Economy”, Amsterdam, October 19 & 20, 2017

Author: Céline Wattecamps, Teaching and Research assistant at the Université catholique de Louvain (UCL)

ABSTRACT:

Online and Mobile Labour Markets, how disruptive are they from a Belgian Labour Law perspective?

The term “disruptive” is often used to describe the rise of digital platforms on the labour markets, i.e. the emergence and development of digital platforms that enable direct matching between supply and demand around the performance of a work in exchange for money.

The question, however, arises whether from a Belgian Labour Law perspective the phenomenon really is disruptive, or at least how disruptive it is. Disruptive refers here to the fact of causing trouble and therefore stopping something from continuing as usual.

The paper intends to answer this question, firstly, by analyzing reactions and initiatives that the Belgian public authorities have adopted so far in this regard. This will give us the opportunity to look at the categories of Belgian Labour Law and their regulations as well as several contributions that help to show how Online and Mobile Labour Markets are disruptive to the legal framework. Secondly, through a historical approach of Belgian Labour Law, we will provide a more nuanced point of view. More specifically, we will examine two concrete examples of phenomena, i.e. agency work and homework. Since these atypical forms of employment have received a legal legitimation, they are no longer viewed as “challenging” under Belgian Labour Law.

At first sight, the advent of digital platforms in the labour markets is disruptive from a Belgian Labour Law perspective. Online and Mobile Labour Markets do not easily fit with the current categories and regulations of Belgian Labour Law. The Program Act of 1 July 2016 modifying the legislation concerning the introduction of the social security scheme for self-employed persons has exempted people who generate a yearly income that is less than 5.000 EUR through their work within the sharing economy, from being subject to the social security scheme for self-employed persons, provided some conditions are fulfilled. However, since then, it is still not clear whether the workers of Online and Mobile Labour Markets should be considered as self-employed or salaried persons. More transversally, it is still not clear from which atypical form of employment they should be approached. In fact, seeking an answer to these questions involves intensive introspective work on who should benefit from Labour Law protection and on what protection Labour Law should offer.

On another side, examples from the past allow us to think that the disruption could only be temporary. Belgian Labour Law has always evolved extending fields of protection and developing new protections. In order to protect the agency worker, a legal presumption was introduced in Belgian Labour Law, which provides that an agency worker is always bound to the temporary work agency by an employment contract. This presumption cannot be refuted. In order to protect the homeworker, a new category of workers benefiting from the protection of Belgian Labour Law was established as well as specific rules that apply to them taking into account their particular situation. At the end, Belgian Labour Law has not fundamentally been questioned.

Therefore, only the future can answer the question. The response that Belgian Labour Law will give to Online and Mobile Labour Markets will show us how disruptive they really are.