In the last century, it was chiefly the flexible options within the legal concept of an employment contract (on-call contracts, outwork, minimum/maximum hours’ contracts) that generated interest. The most notable development was the 1998 legal codification of the temporary employment contract. In recent times the range of possibilities has expanded to include various new employment forms that are in some way different from the classical, or ‘fixed’, employment contract. The most prominent examples are:
The rise in different employment formats is caused by a number of developments. For instance, many 21st-century work providers (employers and clients) now prefer not to use employment contracts. The rules governing those forms of contracts are felt to pose an excessive burden, for example for dismissal and disability. Another often-repeated reason for this shift lies in the international competition that puts pressure on the employer’s costs, particularly at the lower end of the labour market. Classical employment, the work providers argue, has become too expensive.
The surge in the number of self-employed workers has triggered numerous questions about the desirability of protecting and regulating this category. For example, to what extent is the rise of self-employed workers linked to how employers and employees view labour/employment regulation? The European Commission has also expressed its thoughts on this issue, and recommends cutting back the incentives for hiring self-employed workers and increasing the social protection for this category.
With the evolution of labour and employment as a result of the continuing growth of the service sector, and the growing need among both work providers and workers for a degree of flexibility that standard employment contracts cannot offer (or only barely), a new category of labour has emerged: platform workers. New forms of enterprise are appearing, driven by information technology, as can be seen at the national, European and international levels. Collectively, this development is labelled the crowd economy, while specific forms are identified using terms such as sharing economy, collaborative economy,collaborative consumption, peer-to-peer economy, gig economy,platform economyand on-demand economy. At the same time, this development presents society with significant dilemmas, most of them in connection with employment law and social security law: laws on equal treatment, redundancy protection and wage payment and continuation, for example, but also more nebulous concepts such as proper employer practices. The interest in these issues revolves around the question of what employment laws should govern these (and other) ‘bottom-up’ initiatives. Social research is key to answering this question, and can shed light on the motives (and experiences) of the platforms themselves, the individuals working through the platforms and the clients who contract workers on the platforms.
Essentially, this main topic chiefly researches the background to people’s preferences for one type of employment relationship or another, the legal differences between those relationships and the question of whether these non-standard forms – some of which can barely be called that – offer an acceptable degree of protection compared with standard employment contracts (or: compared with identified values and functions, see main topic 1).