The Statutory Accident Insurance (Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung) has recently argued that operators of internet platforms such as Uber, Airbnb and MyHammer should be included in the accident insurance system like any other employer.
Accident insurance is one branch of the social security system in Germany, the contributions to which are traditionally shared between employer and employee. It covers costs for the prevention of occupational accidents and diseases (insured events) and the compensation of damage after the occurrence of an insured event. Costs are ultimately borne entirely by the employers in a pay-as-you-go system, depending also on the risk level of the work performed by their employees. However, independent contractors are not covered by this system.
Critics of the internet platforms argue that more and more jobs are assigned to private individuals via various internet platforms, which act as a digital intermediary. A high number of individuals use these platforms to work a second or third job. Also, many people work their only core job as independent workers through these platforms. This so called click- or crowd working is an increasing phenomenon in particular in the construction sector where, according to data of the accident insurance provider (Berufsgenossenschaft der Bauwirtschaft) around 285,000 of its 518,000 employer member companies do not pay any contributions to the accident insurance system as they officially do not have any employees. If the independent contractors then have a work accident, costs are being socialized instead of being covered by the employer funded accident insurance, critics say. A study on the topic of crowd working showed that about 440,000 people work as independent contractors in this field.
The Statutory Accident Insurance now argues for a duty on the platform operators to step into the legal position of an employer. As a role model, the Insurance points to France. French employment law also recognizes as employee those who use electronical job agencies. For these employees, the platform operators have to regularly pay the social contributions. Unions, now with prominent support of the Statutory Accident Insurance, have been calling for legislative action for quite some time, arguing that the platform companies undermine the social security system and allow price dumping. Some of the platform companies, in contrast, argue that their business model does not fit into a traditional, one-dimensional perception of social security in the labour market. For example the platform Myhammer, in contrast to Uber, does not have any influence on the service provided to the end customer. It does not become a contractual partner but only serves as an intermediary for both ends of the service contract, it is argued. In addition, it cannot be denied that platforms have increased flexibility and have brought new dynamics to the (labour) markets.
The politically highly contentious debate will undoubtedly go on. Nevertheless, concrete steps to legally regulate crowd working have not been taken so far. Perhaps, the recent ruling on the internet platform Uber by the European Court of Justice will accelerate things. The ECJ ruled that Uber needs to act in accordance with the regulations for any other cab company, since it was considered to be not just an intermediary but a transportation service company (judgement of 20 December 2017, docket number C-434/15).