Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has outlined plans to bring in minimum wage and leave entitlements for gig economy workers, in a bid to bring employment laws up to date with a modern workforce.
In a speech delivered on Wednesday, Albanese laid out Labor’s Secure Australian Jobs Plan, which also proposed the inclusion of ‘job security’ in the Fair Work Act, a cap on back-to-back short-term contracts and introducing portable entitlements for workers in insecure industries.
Labor would legislate for more Australian workers to have access to employee protections and entitlements, “currently denied to them by the narrow, outdated definition of an ‘employee’”, he said.
Technology platforms such as Deliveroo, Uber and Airtasker have “transformed the way certain services are delivered for consumers”, Albanese noted.
“But beneath the surface, we are seeing a depressingly familiar picture — workers scrambling for insecure jobs and agreeing to below minimum wage rates to perform work that’s paid by the piece.”
Big tech firms are having their cake and eating it too, he suggested, saying they’re making use of a supply of on-demand workers, but have no employee relationship to manage.
He said the pandemic has highlighted the increasing levels of job insecurity across the workforce.
Industrial relations laws have not been updated to keep up with a modern workforce, and the ever-growing gig economy segment.
As well as pushing for fair pay for gig economy workers, Labor will work towards developing entitlements for sick leave, annual leave and long service leave for people in insecure work, Albanese said, adding “it’s time for a national approach”.
The pledge comes just a few days after WorkSafe NSW released a set of draft guidelines for the safety of delivery drivers and riders, following the deaths of five delivery riders within two months last year.
In a statement, Transport Workers’ Union secretary Michael Kaine said Albanese’s statement is a “clear and strident statement that food delivery riders matter”, and that they should have the same rights as other workers in Australia
“Food delivery riders are dying, and they and rideshare drivers are being ripped off every day because of a lack of regulation,” Kaine added.
“This has got to stop.”
A blow to the tech giants?
Labor’s proposed plans do raise questions as to how the tech behemoths behind the gig economy would manage such changes.
In California, for example, the recently passed Prop 22 legislation gives tech platforms an exemption to new labour laws, allowing them to classify gig economy workers as independent contractors, rather than employees.
However, in the run-up to the vote, both Uber and Lyft threatened to exit operations in the state, rather than comply with existing rules.
Predictably, however, the gig economy giants in Australia would not be drawn on whether additional worker rights would cut into their own profit margins.
A spokesperson for Uber in Australia suggested its workers value the flexibility the platform offers, adding that true flexible work has traditionally been hard to find.
But they welcomed conversations with policymakers on reforms.
“Workers shouldn’t have to choose between benefits and protections or the independence and flexibility available through app-based work,” the spokesperson said.
That said, Uber also noted that there isn’t much policy detail to work off of just yet, and so it’s hard to say just how much any reform would affect them, and other tech platforms.
“This is a complex policy area which will require consultation and input from workers, business and the community,” the spokesperson noted.
“We welcome consultation around how platforms can provide more benefits and protections, while enabling the flexible and independent work that Australians driving and delivering with Uber tell us time and time again they want.”
Similarly, a Deliveroo spokesperson suggested its riders “want to be empowered to set their own work patterns”.
According to the spokesperson, Deliveroo has “long argued for reform to the on-demand economy” in order to increase rider security while protecting the flexible nature of the work.
At the time of writing, Airtasker, which recently filed its prospectus for IPO on the ASX, has not responded to a request for comment.