New Australian Labor government to regulate gig-economy work

29 August 2022

The new Australian Labor government is set to bring reforms to the gig-economy, with the pay rates and conditions of food delivery riders and ride-sharing drivers particularly, who are effectively casual workers, in their sights. Variously referred to as independent contractors, gig-economy, or on-demand workers, the Labor government is seeking to extend them more of the employment rights traditional workers enjoy.

Unlike traditional employees, contractors for gig companies do not have rights to minimum wages, unfair dismissal protections, employer superannuation payments, workers’ compensation for injuries or paid leave. Working conditions in the sector have been under growing scrutiny following five delivery rider deaths in three months in 2020. However, the services have flourished since Uber arrived in Australia a decade ago as minimal government intervention allowed consumers to enjoy cheap and quick food deliveries and more convenient taxi services, and gave gig workers the ability to choose when to work.

Some reports suggest food delivery riders earn little more than ten dollars an hour, well below the minimum wage setting of about twenty-one dollars per hour in Australia. This despite claims by one food delivery service that riders make closer to twenty-eight dollars an hour before expenses. If net earnings equate to ten dollars per hour though, then reform is certainly necessary.

The federal opposition meanwhile believes mandating working and pay conditions won’t suit all gig-economy workers, especially self-employed tradespeople:

In response to the government branding the gig economy a “cancer”, opposition industrial relations spokeswoman Michaelia Cash said Labor was demonising self-employed people in service of the unions. “This attack on the gig economy will end up being an attack on all independent contractors – like truck drivers, plumbers and numerous other hard-working tradesmen and women,” Cash said.

Cash appears to be referring more to workers on platforms such as services marketplace Airtasker, where people can hire anyone to do literally anything, as long as it is safe and legal. Trades people such as delivery drivers, plumbers, and other self-employed skilled workers, can do well on these platforms, as they’re able to ask for hourly rates sometimes venturing into triple figures.

The same goes — to an extent — to unskilled, though experienced, workers carrying out “odd jobs” on such platforms, who have garnered favourable feedback or reviews for their services, and have shown themselves to be reliable. They’re able to negotiate a fair price for the work, or task, they perform, taking into account job and travel costs, provision for taxes (all gig-economy work in Australia is taxable), and a margin for themselves.

No doubt there are instances of worker exploitation though. Those new to the platform, who have less leverage than established workers, and travellers, or backpackers, unfamiliar with minimum pay rates in Australia, possibly stand to lose.

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