Digitalisation and work: challenges from the platform-economy


The new ways of organising work and offering services on the market through the so-called digital platforms seem to have put the traditional legal standards for classifying employment relationships into question. The mechanism of functioning of digital platforms, in fact, seems to put together a series of ‘old’ problems in a new combination. On the one hand, platforms present themselves on the market as subjects with an apparently rarefied organisational structure, moving along the threads of algorithms; on the other hand, those who collaborate with them seem to do so in a spontaneous, voluntary, random and flexible way. The radical fragmentation, or reduction to the minimum, of the productive organisation, is accompanied by the fragmentation of the work activity itself, made by an anonymous multitude of people (‘crowd’), who move together in the light of invisible dynamics, dictated by unknown algorithms.
Academic scholarship - and in some countries also case law - has already offered many and different answers to the problem of the legal classification of the relationship of those who work for/with the platforms. They vary according to the methodological approaches and the systems used as a reference.
The present paper argues that it is not possible to provide for a general answer to such question, valid for every concrete case. In fact, the specific features of each relationship between the platform and the workers might largely vary from case to case.
However, some elements that are functional to the solution of the classification issue are still disputable and shall be clarified: (a) in most of the cases, the platform does not act as a mere intermediary between the supply and demand for a certain service; instead, it represents the direct supplier of that service, which is provided through the activities of the workers; therefore, the workers are fully integrated into the platforms’ organisation; (b) in the light of the rating mechanism and the adoption of certain contractual clauses on withdrawal – that will be described –, often the worker is made illegitimately liable for the unfulfilment of the obligations to the customer; (c) when the conditions a) and b) occur, a substantial overlap between the business carried out by digital platforms and the workers’ activities can be detected and this shall be taken into consideration in the investigation on the legal status of the workers, especially in order to prevent any attempt to circumvent the application of the employment law protections.