Going against the regulation of work on platforms

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By RICARDO ANTUNES*

Complementary Bill 12 accepts and consents that the proposed regulation is to legalize deregulation

Complementary Bill 12 (PLP 12), presented on March 4, 2024, received the following comment from the President of the Republic: “It is a very important day. You have just created a new modality in the world of work. A new child was born into the world of work. People will have autonomy, but, at the same time, they need a minimum of guarantees.”[I]

Created to regulate the work of app drivers, contrary to what the president said, it, in its 3rd article, states: “The worker who provides the service of individual private paid transportation of passengers in a four-wheel motor vehicle [… ] will be considered, for labor purposes, a self-employed worker”. By doing so, the project accepts and legalizes the essential requirement of the platforms, which is that the worker, once considered “self-employed”, remains outside the entirety of labor protection legislation in Brazil.

Welcomes and consents that the proposed regulation is to legalize deregulation, since it forges the disappearance and evaporates the real condition of subordination and salaried employment, that is, the real effectiveness that shapes work on platforms, whose concreteness highlights to the limit the inescapable recognition of the subordination of work.

It is imperative to say: this obliteration can only be conceived by abstracting the effective reality of work relationships existing on platforms, whose speed and intensity are driven by algorithms and invisible digital artifacts that control, command and impose rhythms, times and movements of work, so as to make everything unclear and very murky. Architecture framed by the era of neoliberalism and financialization that began by imposing outsourcing, expanded informality, forged the incident of intermittency, until reaching the aberration of uberization. All this to put an end to wage labor once and for all, engendering the fallacy of the so-called “self-owner” and obscuring real proletarianization.

Historical process carefully carved and polished over decades, whose causalities are visible: an immense mass of workers without jobs and willing to accept any work to survive, in an era of technological explosion that does not stop for a minute to rest.

Just look at the speed of artificial intelligence, whose ChatGPT4, in itself, has unlimited potential to eliminate jobs. Disproportionate technological impulse that intensified after the outbreak of the recessive and structural crisis of 1973, initially with automation invading industrial activities and, right at the turn of the century, with the technological-informational-digital universe that profoundly redesigns production in a broad sense ( industry, agroindustry and services), allowing the advent and expansion of Industry 4.0 and large digital platforms.

This is a movement that occurred simultaneously with the privatization of broad sectors of public services, with the strict objective of generating profit and more value, in the path imposed by neoliberal regressiveness. Industry 4.0 – with the basic purpose of automating, robotizing and unlimitedly expanding the “internet of things” – seeks to eliminate human work as much as possible. Parallel and simultaneously, the large digital platforms present themselves as capable of including this enormous surplus workforce in their multiple and distinct activities, rewritten, resignified and debased.

This is how, from the mid-1990s onwards, almost without being noticed, Amazon (later Amazon Mechanical Turk), Uber and its many offshoots, Deliveroo, Lyft, 99 etc. they were born, grew and grew, becoming powerful digital platforms that today (along with Google, Facebook/Meta, Microsoft and Apple) are at the top of the capital board.

Subsequently, Airbnb, Workana, Getninjas, Parafuzo, among many others, all with an abundant and unemployed workforce, in the midst of a true technological explosion, gradually found the necessary conditions to use the Frankenstein scam, which neither Mary Shelley's masterful literary imagination managed to envision: allowing large platforms to bypass the labor protection legislation of the respective countries where they were located and circumvent it.

At the origin of large digital platforms, corporate legal consultancy was sought and the result was gradually generated: a hybrid category was “invented” to circumvent labor protection legislation. It was necessary to mask, cover up, obliterate the condition of salary and subordination, in order to guarantee empulhação.

To achieve this, it was necessary to forge a new corporate lexicon that showcased the (in)discreet charm of large platforms. The large workforce to be incorporated was simply renamed: from workers, salaried employees, employees, they became “self-employed”, “entrepreneurs”, direct and beloved substitutes for the that large traditional corporations called, years ago, “collaborators”. How lucky Aurélio Buarque de Holanda was not to experience such a profound adulteration of the original meaning of words.

And as large corporations do not play around on the job, the actions were always very studied and carefully calculated: it was better to start in the global South, where almost anything goes and fraud is always easier, since predation was almost always supported by history and the heavy legacy of slavery. In Northern countries, however, it would be better to follow the path of markedly neoliberal governments, such as the United States and England, so that, little by little, the platforms would spread their tentacles.

If some of them started out as small gadgets, full of “luminous” ideas, they soon became global giants. The founders of Uber, for example, conceived a company in which the costs in relation to work instruments would be transferred to workers, who would have to buy or rent the car (later, with the expansion of the platform's activities, also motorcycles, bicycles), cell phone, internet, bag etc. In this way, “platform capitalism” is no longer responsible for even providing basic work tools, not to mention exemption from taxation.

A package so well-crafted that it soon brought to the surface a glaring and apparent paradox: in the midst of the informational-digital era, with the intense development of information and communication technologies (ICT), at the same time there was a monumental regression in working conditions, now presented as an example of “modernity”, even if, in fact, it recreated inhumane working conditions, typical of the Industrial Revolution.

Outsourcing, for example, in force in England in the 18th and 19th centuries, by which the working class worked at home, outside the factory space, without any rights and under unlimited conditions of exploitation, has currently become the pompous crowdsourcing, also devoid of protective legislation, distorting the arduous global history of work. The old reappears as new, resurfacing as “modern”, with modern labor protection being presented as “archaic”.[ii]

It was this hoax that PLP 12 embraced when giving birth to “a new child in the world of work”: no vacations, no 13th salary, no weekly rest, no regulated working hours, no FGTS, without recognizing the minimum rights of women who cannot even get pregnant etc. The complete lack of knowledge (or disregard) of the scenario in other parts of the world is surprising (or was it intentional?)

The careful and most up-to-date study on European judicial decisions regarding the employment relationship that we have to date, authored by Christina Hiessl (published in full in the book), offers a broad overview of what has been happening on the European scene. Despite the differences that exist between the different countries of the European Union, the Directive on the improvement of working conditions on digital platforms, recently approved by the 27 Member States of the region, recognizes the presumption of an employment relationship, contrary to the proposition of digital platforms that they seek to impose the condition of “autonomy”, to exempt themselves from complying with the legislation.

Furthermore, the Directive proposes a detailed and thorough regulation of algorithmic work management, in order to protect employees on platforms, at several decisive points. Therefore, contrary to ignoring it, as the PLP 12 does, the legislation that has been created in the European Union both rejects the assumption of “autonomy” and faces the crucial problem of the invisibility of algorithms, demanding transparency from platforms, as well as the imperative need for its control, including by workers who work in the sector.

This is why Brazil is going against the grain and on a regression path when compared to the European scenario. And if this PLP is approved, it will in fact be legalizing and legitimizing a huge historical setback that will “open the door” to the demolition of labor rights won by the working class as a whole in countless battles, fought since the time of slavery in Brazil. Brazil. This is because PLP 12 gives the diamonds and gold to the big digital platforms and throws crumbs to the workers.

We know that social security is vital, necessary and urgent for people living with Uber, but that it must be effective and not ephemeral, since, without recognition of the salaried condition, it is not possible to guarantee that people can truly contribute to actually having the right to a public pension. Something similar occurs with unions: to be recognized and effective, they cannot be the result of a creation by the government leadership, but of the consciousness and will to organize of the working class.

That is why, far below what happens in other countries (several of them with declared neoliberal governments, it is worth remembering), the PLP 12 is synonymous with defeat, which starts with app drivers and could later reach delivery men and women, having great potential for generalization to other categories.

And the acceptance that platforms are intermediary companies or technology providers, as PLP 12 does, falls apart in the face of the basic question: when we call 99 or Uber, are we calling for private transport or do we want to learn technology? The answer, any child knows.

In short: the government's PLP succumbed to the imposition of platforms, which do not accept negotiating this crucial point: the recognition of subordination and salaried employment, with the consequent recognition of labor rights that the entire working class fought for centuries to conquer.

The idea of ​​creating a “third category” opens up the possibility of entering the “law of the jungle” of work, since, for a wide and growing range of workers, especially in private and public services, the legalization of The condition of “self-employment”, to the detriment of the recognition of salaried employment, is the gateway to the extinction of all labor rights in Brazil.

This is why, and so many other crucial points that you can read in this book, PLP 12, if approved, will mean a major defeat for app drivers and also, in its developments, for delivery people. And it could be responsible for a major setback for the working class as a whole. Therefore, it needs to be defeated and rejected if we do not want to find ourselves, once again, going against the grain of history.

*Ricardo Antunes is a full professor of sociology at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Pandemic capitalism (boitempo).

Abridged version of the book's Presentation Note Work on Platforms: Regulation or Deregulation (various authors), in press by Boitempo, published with the support of the Public Ministry of Labor (15th Region), which will be distributed free of charge.

Notes


[I] Available in: www.infomoney.com.br/politica/lula-assina-projeto-sobre-direitos-de-motoristas-de-aplicativos-discussao-nao-sera-moleza/.

[ii] See the various research, in Ricardo Antunes (org.), Drifting icebergs: work on digital platforms (São Paulo, Boitempo, 2023) and Uberization, digital work and Industry 4.0 (São Paulo, Boitempo, 2020).


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