On 30 June 2020, the European Commission announced that it has launched a process to ensure that the EU competition rules do not stand in the way of collective bargaining for those who need it. The initiative seeks to ensure that working conditions can be improved through collective agreements not only for employees, but also for those self-employed who need protection.

The European Commission Work Programme for 2020 includes the goal to improve labour conditions for platform workers. Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: 

“The Commission has committed to improving the working conditions of platform workers during this mandate. So today we are launching a process to ensure that those who need to can participate in collective bargaining without the fear of breaking EU competition rules. As already stressed on previous occasions the competition rules are not there to stop workers forming a union but in today's labour market the concept “worker” and “self-employed” have become blurred. As a result, many individuals have no other choice than to accept a contract as self-employed. We therefore need to provide clarity to those who need to negotiate collectively in order to improve their working conditions.”

Collective bargaining with workers falls outside the scope of the application of EU competition rules. However, the problem of extending collective bargaining to professionals such as the self-employed is that they are not formally employees but ‘undertakings’, and therefore agreements they enter into (such as collective bargaining) may be covered by EU competition rules. 

The European Commission has stated that to define the scope of the self-employed who need to participate in collective bargaining is a challenge due to the diverse nature of self-employed activities. 

The European Commission will now assess whether it is necessary to adopt measures at EU level in order to address the issues raised by this situation and improve the conditions of such individuals.

The European Commission has invited stakeholders from the public and private sector, including competition authorities and government bodies, academia, as well as legal and economic practitioners trade unions and employers organisations to participate to the on-going public consultation on the Digital Services Act Package (section V of the consultation, on “Self-employed individuals and platforms”). 

The deadline for responses to the European Commission's survey is 8 September 2020. It plans to publish an inception impact assessment in the autumn, setting out the initial options for future actions and will then launch a public consultation.