Safety and Health at Work for Platform Workers

No institution in Serbia keeps records of how many delivery workers are injured at work, as stated in the podcast "Delivery Couriers and Traffic Safety – The Price of Risk." Nevertheless, it's evident from media headlines, which are significantly fewer than the actual number of such incidents, that delivery workers often face accidents and mishaps while on duty.

It’s common to hear about a bicycle courier being hit by a car or a motorbike courier falling and getting injured. In the mentioned podcast, one delivery worker remarked: “It’s quite dangerous to ride anything with two wheels. Mistakes are easily made.”

As defined in the publication “Why is the EU Directive 2019/1152 on Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions Important for Platform Workers in Serbia?” work on a platform is a form of employment where the Internet is used to mediate between workers providing services and clients engaging and paying for these services through platforms.

“The work is facilitated via an Internet ‘platform,’ through which the worker receives compensation, however the work is executed. This setup forms a ‘triple relationship’ wherein the worker receives compensation not directly from the platform but from the client, with the platform serving as an intermediary. The platform deducts its ‘commission’ before forwarding the payment to the worker. This arrangement intentionally gives the impression that the worker is directly employed by the client (not the platform) and that the platform merely acts as a connector, thus avoiding any obligations as an employer”, as stated in the publication.

As one delivery worker previously told N1, “What contributions, what contracts? We don’t even have a simple service agreement, let alone an employment contract. Nothing, absolutely nothing. You go to an agency, as if you’re getting employed. They give you equipment that you pay 10-15 thousand dinars for, and you advertise the company you bring profit to, but with which you don’t have a contract.”

No clear rules yet

Efforts to regulate the field of safety and health at work for platform workers exist, but they remain insufficient to bring about significant practical changes. One of the initial attempts to define this area by the platforms themselves was the “Charter of Principles for Good Platform Work” published at the beginning of 2020. This document was jointly issued by some of the largest Internet platforms (Cabify, Deliveroo, Grab, MBO Partners, Postmates, and Uber) with the aim of establishing principles to improve the position of platform workers that all platforms would adhere to and, in that regard, to enhance cooperation between platforms and social partners.

As stated in the aforementioned publication, “The Charter consists of eight sections, each addressing one corpus of platform workers’ rights. It first addresses the protection of platform workers, with the basic idea that platforms, together with relevant state authorities and user employers, ensure safety and health at work and decent working conditions. Therefore, both aspects of ‘gig workers’ protection are in focus – physical and moral integrity, with the latter specifically emphasizing that any behavior consisting of verbal, physical, or sexual abuse will not be tolerated.”

The Charter states that “Governments, platforms, and users/clients share responsibility, taking into account local conditions, for ensuring decent working conditions. Platforms should have policies or guidelines, appropriate to local working methods, to help protect workers from health and safety risks and should seek to protect and promote workers’ physical and mental well-being.”

However, as noted by Senad Jašarević and Darko Božičić, authors of the publication by the Center for Public Policy Research, such a legal construct defining the good intentions of the platforms but not their legal obligations shows that the “Charter is actually a programmatic rather than legal act. The same conclusion is further emphasized when we add the initial provisions of the Charter, which define the basic terms – platform, platform worker, and user (employer user). For example, next to the definition of the term ‘platform worker’ is a footnote, indicating that the term ‘worker’ (on the platform) is used as a generic term and should not in any way imply any form of labor relationship between the worker and the platform.”

Wolt couriers protest in Belgrade; Photo: Mašina

In Serbia, the field of platform work is not clearly defined, and numerous issues are associated with this type of employment. However, problems with defining labor legislation exist at the European level as well. This is evidenced by the fact that Germany, France, Greece, and Estonia formed a blocking minority preventing a qualified majority from adopting the final text of the declaration on digital platform work. Thus, the proposal for the Platform Work Directive, after more than two years of negotiations, is practically postponed until after the new composition of the European Parliament is elected, as stated in an article on the “Nezavisnost” union’s website.

According to the FairWork report for Serbia for 2022, some platforms invest in developing the area of health and safety at work, including GDPR policy, organizing mandatory worker safety training, health and safety tests before engagement, or providing equipment such as helmets. However, as stated in the report, workers suggest that the equipment should be of higher quality and available to everyone without charge.

The Law on Safety and Health at Work adopted by the Assembly last year does not define the area of platform work. The Labor Inspectorate previously told N1 that compliance with the provisions of the Labor Law and the Law on Safety and Health at Work to reduce undeclared work and workplace injuries are priorities of the Labor Inspectorate. In their response to the N1 portal, they stated that they did not monitor the status of delivery workers and that in 2023, “workers employed to perform deliveries for the companies mentioned in the question did not contact them.”

However, it seems that systemic efforts are needed to protect labor rights and ensure safety and health at work for platform workers, especially those who deliver goods and are exposed to various risks in traffic. Establishing the legal foundations based on which delivery workers could enjoy rights equal to those of workers with employment contracts – the right to safety, sick leave, rest, and everything else that falls under the basic standards of labor rights.



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