The writer works as an Adviser for Communication and Outreach / Team Leader at European Commission, EPSC. This blog post is a part of our generational policy blog series.
Four years ago, the European Commission made the digital internal market one of the ten priorities of President Juncker. Already back then, but certainly now in 2018, we should challenge the thinking that the digital internal market is separate from other areas of business, the market and our everyday lives. In practice, digitality is part of all production of goods and services. Digitality does not only affect our business activities, it also affects our everyday lives, as well as the current day and the future of work.
In Europe, 37 per cent of the workforce currently have insufficient digital skills, or they completely lack the skills to use new technology. 20–25 per cent of students think that their teachers’ level of knowledge and teaching of new technology is not high enough. In addition, less than half of European children have access to digital tools to support their school work, and 18 per cent of pupils have no internet access at all. These are things that we should be able to solve together at a European level – today, not tomorrow.
Adam Smith, who was ahead of his time, already stated back in the 18th century that freedom and a division of labour enable us to make use of people’s different abilities. Smith’s thinking is still up to date. Today’s employers do not have to be physically present in the lives of their employees if they do not want to be. Online employers upload tasks and projects on different platforms using cloud services. Employees based around the world can then download tasks and projects that suit their skills from the platforms. All that is required is a computer and internet access to return the completed work. The employees can collect testimonials about the quality of their work and use that to set their rates. This arrangement makes it possible to work on a beach in France or at a pavement café in Berlin.
For some tasks, it is necessary to clock in and out, but the majority of work has changed and is still changing a great deal as the sharing economy definitively transforms traditional employment. Those who have studied law, languages or economics and e.g. coders are in high demand for cloud-based work. Trends change fast, however, when businesses look for skills and offer tasks openly in the global marketplace.
What about tax or pension and social security contributions?
The latter two are the responsibility of the worker. The question of tax is more complex, and it applies to the sharing economy as a whole. A business pays their taxes in the country where they are operating or cashing their yields, but the situation is less clear for a worker (e.g. an Uber driver). The option that works best is for workers to pay tax according to their income in the country where they habitually reside, just like those in permanent employment or on temporary contracts.
It is clear for many of us millennials that we do not want to be tied to one country and currency our entire lives. A house by a lake and decades with the same employer does not sound very tempting these days. It is not the state’s job to act as people’s guardian but to create a safe infrastructure for the thinking individual. The European Union has the same job on a higher level. The thinking individual can choose their own pension provider and save for their own social security. They can also choose their own working hours and place of work.
It is inevitable that the economy, work and society will change. Instead of fighting and obstructing change we should build new economic regulations and models which work on an international level and which support future work and growth. And we also need to make sure that no one is left behind in these developments. Our students in Europe must have the same opportunities to proceed with their studies and move into working life no matter which country they have gained their elementary education in. Digitality, the sharing economy and new ways of working give us a new kind of freedom. They offer a platform where people can access a larger share of the job market, whether we want to stay and build our future in our homeland or move to warmer climes with our laptop and internet access which covers the entire European Union.
Adviser for Communication and Outreach, Team Leader / European Commission, EPSC