Gig workers’ rights and status remain a key issue in German coalition talks

The future status of German gig workers may prevent a swift resolution of coalition talks following the country’s general election, in which the Social Democrats (SPD) narrowly defeated the Christian Democrats (CDU) of outgoing chancellor Angel Merkel.

The centre-right CDU is fundamentally opposed to SPD policies on the economy, taxation and social security. These include commitments made by the SPD to introduce new regulations for gig workers if it formed part of the new government.

These new laws would make it easier for workers to prove employment status in court and permit them to organise and negotiate working conditions with platforms.

The SPD also said self-employed platform workers would be brought within the statutory pension system and platforms permitted to make contributions on their behalf.

These issues were raised by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) in a discussion paper. Though the paper had no legal authority, it captured the zeitgeist. On 15th September, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in support of legislation in favour of default employee status for platform workers.


Alternative voices


The federal election was something of a watershed for Germany, as all the traditional parties – on both left and right – lost ground to alternative voices. The post-Merkel political landscape will be very different with the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP) wielding considerably more influence over the balance of power.

Both parties experienced huge swings in their favour. The FDP gained 12 seats in parliament, while the Greens won 51, more than the CDU lost (49).

While the CDU may find much common ground with the right-of-centre FDP, the left-leaning Greens are more natural allies for the SPD.

FDP leader Christian Lindner announced the day after the election that the party would seek talks with the Greens to find common ground before negotiating on a coalition government with a third party.

“We have decided that we want to launch sounding-out talks with the Greens,” Linder told a news conference. “The biggest policy differences are between the FDP and Greens and that’s why it makes sense, given the polarisation, to try to find common ground. At the same time, the Greens and FDP are the parties most opposed to the status quo of the grand coalition. Neither the conservatives nor the SPD stand for a new approach.”


Generational shift


The rejection of the mainstream parties is not simply a show of dissent by an electorate jaded by the Covid-19 pandemic, but a generational shift. The ranks of the Greens and FDP were swollen by massive support from younger people, as 18-24 year-olds became both parties’ largest voter group. They also polled more votes from those under 30 than any other party.

The FDP favours a deal with the CDU, as its business and economic policies are most compatible. But it must remember it is the junior partner in this negotiation. Its gains have been eclipsed by the Greens, suggesting that climate change and the environment are of primary concern to younger voters.

The policies of the Greens and SPD are in alignment and at odds with their possible coalition partners. They are keen to raise taxes and release billions of euros in new investments. They are also more likely to be in step on progressive employment issues, leaving gig workers hoping for the formation of a successful “traffic light alliance”.

However, the coalition talks may take weeks or even months. If they are not concluded before Christmas, Merkel may be forced to stay in her role as chancellor until 2022.

Pádraig Floyd PlatformsIntelligence contributing writer

Photo: Marco Verch

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