Classify gig workers in industrial law

The election of the Albanese Labor Government provides an opportunity to make significant inroads to improving conditions for transport workers servicing the gig economy – the Uber, Amazon and Menulog drivers that transport meals, groceries, parcels and other freight for wages and conditions that should embarrass any responsible employer.

As the CEO of the employer representative VTA, and the secretary of the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation (ARTIO), I have a unique perspective of the labor issues impacting employers, and their capacity to compensate people at appropriate levels. In an economy facing inflationary and interest rate pressures, it’s a delicate balancing act. 

What we are facing today with the advent of the gig economy and technology engagement is the rapid degradation and break down of the values and working standards that have been so difficult to obtain over many decades of conventional industrial bargaining.

What the gig economy is forcing upon us is the loss of communication, individual personalisation, employer responsibility, and a recognition of value in working effort, as well as a reduction in payment standards, entitlements, and allowances.

These diminishing standards represent a devaluation of an individual worker’s effort, reversal of responsibility in working for another individual and eventually a degradation of our broader standards of living.

To say I am angry about the introduction of the gig economy is an understatement.

We have had to endure a business structure that produces very little infrastructure and investment in this country but maximum uptake of profits that flow directly out of the Australian economy without attracting taxes and direct costs.

Working for a gig platform does provide some benefits such as work flexibility and instant payment.

However, there are many more negatives such as low hourly rates, no enshrined leave or superannuation provisions, indiscriminate deductions within payments, and no collective representation.

We have gone backwards with the introduction of the gig economy. People taking advantage of other people and wanting to make profits based upon the manipulation of others. In this system you have no direct identity except through a number that is then only recognised by a device that has no emotion, no empathy, no culture, and no appreciation of effort.

But there is an answer. Give the gig worker a formal classification under our current industrial relations laws. Whether that be independent contractor, casual or part-time worker. 

We need to acknowledge that it is the platform system that primarily engages the individual no matter who is the third party that has requested the services.

By making this clear and definitive classification, the current industrial relations system can then do the work that it is there to do. It can hold gig platform operators to account, give the industrial relations system direct points of reference within the law regarding complaints, and ensure that the responsibilities of the gig platform and worker are shared.

Currently, the gig platforms do not treat the people they engage fairly, equally and with respect. Hiding behind the magic of technology and ignoring the hard-fought working values of our country while taking billions of dollars profit directly offshore. This is not how our country has grown and developed.

We need to ensure that we address the issues behind the gig economy as quickly and decisively as possible. The TWU has started the process. They have done a fantastic job with the recent agreement with DoorDash. A great first step in ensuring that all the system negatives are addressed. TWU national secretary Michael Kaine and his team should be applauded for this milestone.

For me, the problems of the gig economy can be easily resolved. Clearly define the industrial relations status of a gig worker. We have the system in place to make this classification and it is the gig economy that should be made responsible to this system.

Under a new government that in opposition committed to act on Senate recommendations for an independent body to set universal, binding standards, reforms are possible that would prevent their further erosion.

  • Peter Anderson is CEO of the Victorian Transport Association

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