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In what ways are solo self-employed persons currently protected by laws and regulations? And are they protected enough? Niels van der Neut immersed himself in the world of the self-employed for his dissertation.

Why did you think it was important to look at the protection of solo self-employed persons?

'There's a lot of attention for a specific type of workers, like the Uber drivers who appear to be employees rather than self-employed. But what if we assume that solo self-employed persons really are self-employed in practice: what is their legal status then? Little attention was paid to that group, even though it is quite a large group.'

Did you come across any surprises in your research?

'There is already much more protection than people think. For example, the basic principle in a long-term contract is that a notice period applies, even if the parties have not arranged this in their contract. People do not expect this, because it does not follow so clearly from the law.’

Do solo self-employed persons themselves actually want more protection?

'It is important that they can continue to do business, but enjoy protection in the areas where they are particularly vulnerable. That vulnerability must be determined per subject. In addition, it is important that they be left alone if they are not vulnerable. Legislation in which entrepreneurs who earn 80 euros an hour have to explain and record against their will that they earn more than the minimum rate obviously completely misses the mark.'

What type of solo self-emplyeed persons are the most at risk of not making ends meet?

‘They are solo self-employed who mainly provide services in person through their own labour at a low rate and who are mostly economically dependent on one client. Of all workers, this group is most at risk of poverty. This may include, for example, self-employed cleaners and package deliverers. Besides this group, there are other solo self-employed persons who in fact have a strong bargaining position. Think of lawyers who charge high rates and are therefore not, or less, economically dependent. I wanted to see if you can better protect the most vulnerable solo self-employed without necessarily changing the law to do so.’

Copyright: Niels van der Neut
There is protection, but it is not always clear who is protected for what and why

How do you determine whether solo self-employed persons are sufficiently protected?

'I looked at the level of protection based on three topics that all related to subsistence security: pay, liability, and termination. I could see that the level of protection varies by topic. It depends on the vulnerability of the type of solo self-employed worker on that topic. And being vulnurable, in this case, is not always the same as having a weak economic position. It could also be about who has control or influence over working conditions or the prevention of unwanted competition on working conditions. So the solo self-employed person, who mainly provides services through their own labour at a low rate, and who is mostly economically dependent on one client, is not necessarily protected on all topics. On the other hand, a high rate solo self-employed worker sometimes is protected on a particular topic. That is a difficult message, but it also leads to the understanding that the problems and solutions can vary by topic.'

And how can you ensure that precisely the vulnerable solo self-employed persons are protected?

'Perhaps we should define who is vulnerable by topic. One size fits all does not work in this case. After all, that does not do justice to the pluriformity of that group. There is protection now, but it is not always clear who is protected for what and why. Current legislation is concise and general in nature. In practice, judges base their discissions on the circumstances of specific cases. The risk of creating very detailed laws is that you cannot provide customization, and that is not helpful with a diverse group like the solo self-employed persons. We can use the open standards we have to provide more protection, but only when necessary. If the law does not give that space, when there are  in fact good arguments to protect certain people, I call that a bottleneck. In my dissertation, I have made a first modest attempt towards different solutions and directions for these identified challenges.’