The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Governing Body has announced that it will add to its 2025 Conference an agenda item to discuss standards related to decent work on the platform economy.
This decision is great news for those committed to the assurance of workers’ rights in the platform economy. It means the ILO can move forward in discussing and, hopefully, approving an international convention with guidelines that ensure standards of fair work for the millions of workers who provide services via digital labour platforms.
In addition to the government officials and unions who have been supporting this agenda inside the ILO, more than 300 professors, lecturers, and researchers launched a Global Manifesto for a Fairer Platform Economy last October, in which they advocate for the approval of an international convention ensuring standards of decent work for platform workers.
The ILO and platform work
Platform work was a focus of attention at the ILO since last year. In October, a group of experts with representatives from unions, platforms, and academic institutions gathered to discuss the main challenges of platform work and decide on the role that the ILO could take in facing those challenges. Unfortunately, platform representatives and some government officials refused to go on towards a consensus on the need for an international convention.
The decision to reopen this discussion at the 2025 ILO conference comes from the Board’s members’ analysis of the document “A normative gap analysis on decent work in the platform economy”, drawing from the Expert group debate. The document lists gaps in the application of international labour standards and challenges in the platform economy that are not properly addressed in current international labour standards. The text lists gaps in topics such as employment relationships, freedom of association and collective bargaining, forced labour, elimination of child labour, equality and opportunity of treatment, labour inspection, employment policy, employment security, wages, working time, health and safety, social security, migrant workers, specific categories, and protection of workers’ data.
With this decision, the Governing Body confirmed that the organisation will move forward with elaborating international guidelines to address these problems. The next step will therefore consist in defining the primary problems faced by platform workers and adequate solutions to solve them.
The Global Manifesto for a Fairer Platform Economy and the Fairwork Principles provide a good start for this by listing challenges and guidelines to be considered for a future international convention. The Manifesto:
- Highlights the problems caused by gaps in the misclassification of workers. Most platform workers are currently misclassified by platforms as self-employed and are therefore denied many basic employment rights and protections.
- Stresses the need to ensure basic standards of payment, with measures to ensure minimum and, preferably, living wages. Many platform workers work on a piece-rate and are not paid for their total hours spent working.
- Argues for implementing health and safety measures to avoid and mitigate risks arising from work and provide a safety net, as well as reduce unpaid work and overwork.
- Calls for better data protection policies. In many countries, platforms are able to extract and use data from workers without their consent and without adequate privacy protections.
- Points out that contracts must be accessible and not contain unfair clauses. Platform workers often do not have access to their contracts, nor the contracts’ terms and conditions, and find it difficult to seek legal redress as the applicable law is that of a foreign country.
- Supports the relevance of due process and appealing systems to avoid unjust disciplinary actions. In most cases, workers can be ‘deactivated’ without the option to appeal the platform’s decision.
- States that platforms need to adopt anti-discrimination policies. Both algorithms and customers have been found to discriminate against workers on the basis of religion, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and workers are generally left unprotected against these forms of discrimination.
- Emphasizes the crucial right to fair representation and collective bargaining. Many workers often work in isolation and find it difficult to build collective power. Moreover, in many countries, due to their self-employed status, they are often prevented from forming a union or engaging in collective bargaining.
The road to 2025 opens an opportunity to deepen the scrutiny on this topic and present solutions which will be a landmark for the platform economy. An international convention can be a powerful regulatory tool to establish limits to abuses and unfair practices in digital labour platforms. In addition, it can set the example for countries to approve of and implement national legislation to improve the standards of platform work and to legitimise the requests of different actors fighting for better and fairer working conditions.