Working across platforms

Harun Farocki, Workers Leaving the Factory in 11 Decades, 2006
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By JORGE LUIZ SOUTO MAIOR*

The current institutional debate on the regulation of work through apps is a political process that is far from democratic

On June 19, 2023, the Brazilian Association of Mobility and Technology (Amobitec), an entity that represents companies such as 99, Amazon, Lalamove, iFood and Uber, and also a member of the Working Group created by the Ministry of Labor to regulate work by applications, presented its proposal, with the explanation of nine items, which would integrate its “Charter of Principles” to deal with what it calls “work through platforms”.

Among the topics, there are formulations tending to grant rights to workers by applications, such as, "the guarantee of minimum remuneration, ensuring that workers receive the equivalent of the national minimum wage proportional to the time actually worked ; the limitation of hours worked and the contracting of insurance against accidents”.

According to Abomitec, its objective would be to complement the proposal it made earlier, in April 2022, in order to provide other guarantees to workers, in addition to inclusion in social security, already “offered”.

For the executive director of the entity, the document presented to the WG is a demonstration that companies seek to “improve working conditions mediated by digital platforms” and that they have “the firm purpose of contributing to the creation of legislation that meets a new reality in the world of work, contemplating the demands of companies and workers”.

The nine items presented in the document (which can be viewed here in full) relate to: (1) Legal certainty. (2) Independence of the worker. (3) Social Security. (4) Minimum remuneration guarantee. (5) Limitation of working hours. (6) Worker health and safety. (7) Transparency. (8) Competitive neutrality. (9) Dialogue between platforms and workers.

It is the subtext of the proposals, however, that reveal the real objectives of the companies represented by the entity. Then let's see.

 

The undemocratic political process of regulation

First, it is important to highlight that this whole institutional debate on the regulation of work through applications, carried out behind closed doors and with the participation of companies and their political and economic powers, is a great disguise to actually promote a legitimization of deregulation this type of work, because, legally speaking, these workers, due to the conditions in which their work is exploited, are employed and have all the rights that the Federal Constitution and labor legislation guarantee to all workers.

What is intended, therefore, is not to regulate, in the sense of ensuring that labor rights are respected, but rather, through an induced and therefore flawed negotiation, to force the leaders of these workers (not represented by the Centrals), to accept a regulation which appears to advance the subject, but which, in essence, seeks to constitute an obstacle to concrete advances in terms of recognition of the rights that, it is worth repeating, app workers already have, but which are not respected.

A regulation of work by platforms would only be necessary to, ensuring the general minimum, accommodate the specific demands of workers, in order to guarantee them the rights they deem necessary to improve their working and living conditions, such as, for example: freedom of choice , by the worker, of working hours, up to the limit of the daily and weekly shift; rest periods; specific and salubrious places of rest; supply, by the employer, of the means of production (vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, etc.); maintenance by the employer of the means of production, etc.

Furthermore, as is well known, Labor Law is the result of the historical conquests of the working class, in their struggles to limit the power of capital and earn higher wages and better living and working conditions. No, therefore, there is no logical sense in envisioning a labor legislation that serves the interests of capital and, thus, legitimizes a form of overexploitation of labor based on demeaning conditions for the execution of services and, consequently, on the suffering of workers. .

Labor and social security rights, in the context of a democratic process, with effective popular participation and of all social representations, have already been raised to the list of fundamental rights in the 1988 Constitution and any “debate” that is institutionalized to deny applicability to these rights , however plural and democratic it may seem, is nothing more than another attack on democracy.

 

The absence of autonomy

The document presented by ABOMITEC has the great utility of allowing workers to visualize how well the companies that own applications have the understanding that they are part of an authentic employment relationship with those who carry out their business, although they try to deny this link, claiming to be only intermediaries of the service that male and female workers provide to users. And they do it, clearly, to evade the social responsibilities, legally established, that hang over each and every employer.

If this were, effectively, an autonomous work, which would be carried out, therefore, without any interference from the companies and without their profits being measured in the immediate proportion of the quantity and quality of the services performed by the workers, that is, if the use of the application were under the exclusive control of whoever uses it to offer a service to another person (without any intermediation, including), this whole debate would be innocuous, since there would be no need to formulate a specific regulation of a labor nature, since there is much to be done labor legislation already establishes who is employed and, consequently, who is not, and the non-employed person, as a true self-employed person, does not have his or her workforce exploited, in a structural way, by others.

That is why, even for employed, non-self-employed workers, labor legal protection, establishing as an obligated entity the person who uses the work of others to achieve his objectives, is relevant, although, of course, rights related to security all people, employed or not, should have.

It is worth noting that if workers' autonomy really existed, a proposal coming from companies would make no sense, as it would be as if they were interfering with the freedom of others and the power of self-management of those who own their own businesses.

Their proposal denounces control and makes explicit the economic activity of exploiting the work of others.

 

Legal security to explore work without assuming responsibilities

By calling for legal security, companies recognize that they are not facing a hypothesis of autonomous work, since, otherwise, legal security would already be given, as is configured in the countless and varied relationships of provision of occasional services that exist around.

What they want, then – and this the document makes very clear – is “legal security” to continue exploiting the work of others without assuming the legal responsibilities arising from this exploitation, appropriating values ​​corresponding to workers’ rights and social charges and tax.

In the speech, they repeat the euphemism “work intermediated by platforms”, but they know that it is, in fact, an exploitation of the work of others, so much so that their business, effectively, is the sale of services performed by workers to users of applications .

 

A relationship of interdependence

Companies insist on the rhetoric of calling workers “independent”, but what we have, concretely, is an effective relationship of interdependence, since workers would not perform services without the applications and the management carried out by the companies, and these, the platform companies, would not exist without the workers.

Concretely, the companies that own the application, in order to carry out their business, completely depend on the services that workers provide them. Without the services provided, platform companies, as they integrate into the consumer market, would simply not exist.

And it is very important that workers become aware of this, so that they know and exercise their power.

 

Reduce freedom, in the name of freedom

The document in question stands in defense of the “freedom” of the workers, when, as the application companies are well aware, as we all know, by the way, that the workers do not have real and effective freedom, as they are measured, evaluated and remunerated according to production, and may even be turned off depending on the results presented and behaviors assumed. It would, therefore, be a kind of “supervised” and “limited freedom”, keeping the companies as the definers of these parameters and even as the judge, without the right of defense, of the acts and facts that occurred in the exercise of the supposed “freedom”.

Trying to induce part of the workers to adhere to their proposals, the companies, cleverly, try to make believe that freedom, although false - although even many workers understand that there is, when compared to their situation in a factory, in the face of the ostensive and direct oppression of the industry leader –, is a result of the fact that there is no employment bond in this type of service, suggesting that recognition of the bond could eliminate this small amount of freedom experienced.

It so happens that, as already mentioned above, the employment relationship is the legal formula created to limit the power of capital, in order, therefore, to grant more freedom to workers, so much so that the basic precepts of labor regulation are freedom of association and the free exercise of the strike as instruments of struggle for the conquest of rights and improvements in work and life for the working class.

Rejecting labor rights in a capitalist society with the argument that these rights eliminate workers' freedom, implying that freedom lies in the sale of the workforce governed solely by market rules, is a historical denial, a great deception or an enormous ideological slip (when part of the working class itself or “thinkers” identified with it), which is always promoted in the service or benefit of those who benefit from the exploitation of other people's work.

And the best tactic to achieve this result, from the point of view of the interests of capital, is to transform the workers into the very agents of the destruction of their conquests.

 

The issue of flexible hours

Freedom and flexibility of working hours have never been obstacles to the recognition of workers' rights and will be fully welcome in a specific regulation of this type of employment relationship, as long as they are defined taking into account the point of view of the workers' deliberation and not the employer's, in order to that do not serve as subterfuge for strategic actions of concrete suppression of rights.

 

Right to Social Security

As for Social Security, it should be noted that ABOMITEC's proposal recognizes the need for social protection for workers through applications and even the risk to which they are submitted in their activity.

But the fundamental rights that derive from the condition of citizenship do not depend on anyone's recognition or even favor.

Companies, in any case, make this recognition because they do not want to commit to anything that goes beyond the payment of the social contribution, so that the State, indeed, takes care of issues related to the health of workers.

Concretely, they place the social cost of work carried out at a high degree of risk on society as a whole. In other words, they exclusively appropriate the profit resulting from the exploitation of other people's labor and pass on to society the high social cost of this activity. In short, they publicize the cost and privatize the profit.

 

Contempt for the lives of workers

There is, effectively, a high degree of violence in the way the “Charter of Principles” sees the lives of workers. The document does not express any concern about working conditions. It does not manifest itself on what would be the obligation of the companies for the prevention of accidents and the preservation of the health of the workers. It does not refer to PPE, vehicle maintenance, use of regular helmets, boots, proper nutrition, rest periods, vacations, minimum wage, working hours limits, etc. labor protection in the employment relationship. But since they do not want, in any way, for mainly ideological reasons, to see themselves integrated into an employment relationship with the workers, the way is to disregard the human condition of these people so that they are seen, only, as numbers in a computerized system.

The real effect of this posture (or management strategy and legal tactic) is to assume, without any embarrassment, that many workers could get sick or be maimed and even lose their lives in accidents, since the only concern expressed is with the benefits that Social Security will grant them in such contingencies.

It should be noted that the public statement they make is in favor of Social Security – funded by society as a whole – ensuring benefits to these workers, but only in “cases of illness, accidents and other adversities, in addition to retirement by age”, even providing for the creation of a “specific system for collecting the social security contribution” in which it is possible to “pay the workers’ contribution at source, through withholding by the technological platform, respecting the proportionality of the work actually carried out, without harming the different uses of the platform, be it regular or sporadic”.

It is true that the document contains the expression “safety and health”, but, in fact, nothing is said about safety and health, notably in the essential aspect of prevention. What is done, once again, is to deal with the suffering of workers as something natural and, with this, “offer” the “contracting of insurance against accidents that complement the protection offered by the public security system Brazilian society”.

In any case, paradoxically, this “offer” already says a lot about the understanding of companies about the relationship of interdependence they have with those who provide them with services and the responsibility they have with what happens to these people in the execution of services , whose conditions are given by the very mode of exploitation of the work engendered by the business developed by these companies.

 

Lowering of workers' earnings

The document advocates that app workers must earn a minimum wage, as if the fundamental right to a minimum wage, provided for in the Federal Constitution and in the International Human Rights Treaties, depended on a favor from the employer.

But, even in this aspect, the “Charter of Principles” is misleading, since the concern is to create a formula that provides “legal security” to pay workers less than the minimum wage.

The companies apparently “give” with one hand, but, when claiming that the minimum wage be paid in proportion to the hours worked, concretely, they withdraw with the other.

Now, the minimum wage, as the minimum necessary for survival, must be guaranteed regardless of the number of hours worked, even so that the tactic of punishing workers by not offering calls is interrupted or, at least, minimized. In addition, the defense of the minimum wage in this context erases the historical achievements of the category, in the consolidation of a wage floor higher than the legal minimum.

 

Limitless workday

The document also brings a proposal for a “limitation of working hours”, but it does not admit that the limitation of the workday foreseen in the Federal Constitution – of 8 hours a day and 44 hours a week – also guaranteed in the Declarations of Human Rights, is concretely respected in this kind of service.

It merely proposes “discussing the maximum time spent on the platform”, but “considering the protection of workers and their broad freedom to use multiple applications simultaneously in view of the existence of numerous platforms with different and competing business models”.

That is, it does not propose anything and at the same time suggests that the limitation can be, effectively, “unlimited”.

It is, therefore, another very revealing manifestation of the extent to which “legal security” is intended to exploit the work of others without any limits.

 

The threat

Finally, although with an apparent appeal of reasonableness and weighting, it ends with a threat, stating that the Working Group, in which regulation is discussed within the scope of the Ministry of Labor, “should move forward from the assessment of the impacts and risks resulting from each proposal presented, guided by evidence and data, ensuring the formulation of a public policy that improves the lives of the largest number of Brazilian workers and citizens”. It is certainly appropriate to replace “Brazilian citizens” with economic interests of companies, given that, if they are opposed, they leave the country, leaving “Brazilian citizens” without this “convenience”.

 

Conclusion

It is extremely necessary that, in the course of these debates, these companies be told that the basic notion of citizenship resides in the consideration that there is full equality between men and women with regard to the ownership of fundamental rights; that no fundamental right can be disregarded under the argument that, with such measure, confer viability to an economic undertaking; that no “convenience” is legitimate when based on disrespect for fundamental rights, a role to which social rights, including labor and social security, are constitutionally integrated; and that no economic rationality, expressed in a threatening tone, has the power to generate loss of independence and vigor of democratic institutions, with regard to the commitment to the implementation of the Federal Constitution, Universal Declarations and international Treaties, above all, when related to the role of human rights and the democratic regime.

Brazilian sovereignty and democracy are not on the menu!

*Jorge Luiz Souto Maior is a professor of labor law at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author, among other books, of Moral damage in employment relationships (Studio editors).


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