Working prac­tices of self-employed workers have, in large part, been left un­regulated although in­dependent employment repre­sents a signi­ficant part of employment in the EU. This is true both in relation to working conditions and state benefits that workers are entitled to.

Yet, recently, self-employed workers came under the limelight, with pieces of legislation being considered and approved at EU level in a bid to provide a level-playing field for enterpreneurs and salaried workers alike.

Setting off from a social-protection standpoint, the Euro­pean Parliament considered and approved new rules contained in the Directive on Self-Employed Workers and Assisting Spouses, intended to bridge the gender gap for self-employed workers by allowing women entrepreneurs at least 14 weeks maternity allowance. This would ensure equal treatment for self-employed men and women, specifically by improving maternity benefits and status.

This new law has been considered favourably across the board, since it constitutes a clear improvement to the rights of self-employed workers and their partners, in particular women, encouraging them to become entrepreneurs without having to forsake maternity and family.

It is a far cry from the current position in the majority of EU member states, which do not provide any maternity protection for self-employed women and the partners of self-employed men.

Another piece of legislation concerning working time of self-employed workers however has not been welcomed with as much positive reception.

Working time of entrepreneurs has generally been left to them to regulate.

In this mind-set, the European Commission proposed to exclude self-employed drivers from the scope of the working time directive for road transport. In spite of this, the European Parliament recently voted against the European Commission proposal, confirming equal working time for all professional drivers. Self-employed drivers will not likely be exempted from the 48-hour working week limit.

Although the European Parliament had its reasons for such a decision, mainly safer roads, fair competition and better working conditions for drivers, the vote has met with strong opposition from the freight trucking community and road haulage associations.

These have been scathing in their attack on the new rules and questioned their need given that self-employed driveres were still subject to limited driving times of 56 hours per week and to mandatory minimum rest periods.

The concern in most quarters now is that these new rules will open the floodgates to restricting working hours for self-employed workers in other sectors, endangering the spirit of entrepreneurship in the EU.

In reality, a major overhaul of the concept of self-employment would be required for restrictions on working time of self-employed workers to ever come into place.

Dr Grech is an associate with Guido de Marco & Associates and heads its European law division.

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