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Seeking the Post-Covid Sunshine: Making the Gig Economy More Inclusive

By Denis Bright  

A century after that prior attempt at Return to Normalcy in the wake of the Spanish flu pandemic and the burdens imposed by the Great War (1914-18), political elites are about to steer a new exercise in the economics of corporate modernism.

Perhaps the challenges were greater a century ago. There were an estimated 15,000 deaths from the Spanish flu pandemic in Australia and 60,000 war fatalities in a national population of less than 6 million. Still, there are real challenges associated with the federal LNPs rhetorical plan for the future. You’re welcome to grasp the embedded political agenda from the LNP’s site.

The conservative Nationalist Coalitions of the 1920s offered no real plans for economic and social recovery from the challenges of those difficult times. In juxtaposition, the post-war recovery in the post-1945 era which delivered a national unemployment rate below 2 per cent for the next thirty years with the exception of temporary recessions on the LNP’s watch in 1953 and 1961. Even in those worst years, unemployment was still below 3 per cent (Labor History No.108-May 2015). The Arab oil crisis followed in the mid-1970s and the tolerable unemployment rate doubled to 6 per cent in mainstream media reports which were not qualified by any explanation of the social reality of the employment data being transmitted.

 

Work Practices in the Gig Economy

In today’s gig economy, the Morrison Government will return to corporate-led recovery after 31 March 2021 when JobKeeper and JobSeeker will be scaled back as promised as resources are directed in the federal budget (likely on 11 May 2021) to business and investor sectors which are the key LNP support bases.

On the surface, economic trends are promising. Eyewitness news reports focus on the well-publicized unemployment rate of 6.4 per cent in January 2021. This good news must be tempered by an ABS criterion that defines employment as one hour or more a week for each reference week in the monthly employment surveys.

Underemployment is a big qualifying factor in the ABS data released on 18 February 2021. The underemployment rate is currently over 8 per cent of the workforce.

The growth of independent contracting is staggering. It represents another 8.2 per cent of all employment.

As a bicycle rider, I often whisk past independent contractors waiting at food outlets to deliver fast food for a few dollars a time is revolting sight. Such legalized practices are returning society to the piecework era offered in the early phases of the industrial revolution in Britain which is now is dire straits after BREXIT and a badly managed COVID-crisis.

By coincidence, I enjoyed a travel documentary on life in Cornwall in Britain’s new gig economy where wealth accumulates across an immense social divide. Young entrepreneurs offering food services to beach goers from mobile vans live out of cars and caravans on windswept frosty moorlands to escape unaffordable rentals in England’s surfing paradise. This is social reality in Cornwall’s post-tin and clay mining booms. The documentary is available on YouTube.

Inappropriate employment vetting is widening the wage divide in both private and government sectors (ABC News, 13 July 2019 by Laura Tingle):

The Herald Sun reported this week that two staffers wanting to work for federal ministers failed high-level security checks and that more than 90 people looking for jobs in the Australian Public Service had been denied security clearances in the past four years.

“The vetting process, aimed at catching foreign spies and people vulnerable to blackmail and coercion, has been criticised over a backlog of cases, delays of more than a year and the use of private contractors,” the paper reported.

Yet if one of those people then decided to run for Parliament, there would be no formal process that stopped them, other than perhaps a quiet word from security agencies to political parties that their candidates might pose exactly the sort of risk section 44 is supposed to deal with.

And the rules apply differently to politicians when it comes to leaking things, too.

A battery of corporate vetting agencies has been fostered by the federal LNP to assist in maintaining a docile non-unionized workforce.

The corporate firm Intelligence Studio boasts of its capacity to delve into the private lives of wage-earners with a range of legitimate and less orthodox checks.

Open Source and Social Media Presence – A ‘deep dive’ is conducted of the world wide web and also social media platforms. This data is accessible by anyone including your competitors, investors, and customers therefore we will conduct pre-emptive searches to identify any adverse intelligence the applicant may bring to your company and also give you further insight into the applicant’s associations, habits, interests and activities.

I would recommend that readers take up offers to have taxpayer funded coffee and drinks with federal LNP members which are commencing a through mobile offices so that MPs are actually away of the return to dire straits on the labour market.  I took the opportunity this weekend and was pleased to meet and greet with an affable LNP member who took notes of my concerns but was completely unaware of the extent of employment vetting in both private and public sectors.

Both of my parents suffered from employment vetting in the interwar period when gaining a permanent job was always difficult. This might appear to be a repetitive reference (AIM Network, 20 May 2020) but I am fairly confident that subterranean and sectarian employment vetting sill operated under the Bjelke-Petersen National Party Government in Queensland until the 1980s and perhaps beyond when I recall the promotion trails of some of my teaching colleagues. Employment rights continue to be eroded in more subtle manners through contemporary employment vetting.

Challenges of Non-Unionized Workplaces

Such background checks have the capacity to discourage trade union membership.

This screening activity means more profits for employers as shown by the variation in incomes for unionized and non-unionized employees in the median weekly earning data.

Almost completely overlooked in the rush to more vetting of employees is the slow pace of business investment as revealed in the latest but somewhat delayed RBA charts on trends in the business sector. Data for the December Quarter will not be available from ABS until later in February 2021.

There are alternatives to sustainable investment creation through the initiatives of the RBA, the Future Fund, state and territory based investment funds and overseas investment.

Australia has significant deposits ($5A billion) in the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) from Tony Abbott’s time as prime minister which could be used to promote Belt and Road Projects in Northern Australia in particular to build up Darwin as a key export terminal with supportive transport links and processing plants for food and resource exports.

Such initiatives would bypass the environmentally sensitive use of Coral Sea industrial and coal export terminals while coking coal exports are still a player in the Australian export economy for the next decade at least.

Fellow Australians must be satisfied with the trendlines to the September Quarter of 2020.

It is the Labor Party which can from a majority government to implement a more inclusive plan for the future.

Following negative reactions to the Green’s Caravan to once marginal electorates like Capricornia and Flynn just prior to the 2019 federal elections, there will be some reappraisal of the value of campaigning against coking coal exports until more sustainable energy policies are up and running under a future Labor Government with commitments to electric cars, hydrogen fuels and a more rounded commitment to alternative energy and sustainable cities.

Possibilities for Consensus-Building

The success of Premier Palaszczuk’s state election campaign in 2020 does suggest that co-operation can be forged between traditionally rival sections of the Labor Party’s trade union support base to deliver a better range of environmental, community and infrastructure outcomes which are needed in the electorate. This was indeed the essence of the pre-1957 style of politics in Queensland which kept Labor in office for forty years after 1915 with the exception of the disastrous single term of the Moore Government (1929-32).

The Sunday in Brisbane on 14 February 2021 contained a speculative and largely unsourced opinion piece from journalist Hayden Johnson on the possibility of changing campaigning tactics from the CFMEU to address the consequences of the Green Caravan to Central Queensland just before the 2019 Queensland elections:

Behind the scenes changes in Labor’s factional re-alignment are indeed a sensitive issue with both Labor insiders and members of environmental networks. While this article by Hayden Johnson has its limitations, it is to be commended for raising an important issue for discussion.

Critical journalists should be sensitive to the extent of subterranean politics between political elites. Both helpful comments and refusals to comment are all significant. I have sought comments from within the trade union movement and from environmental networks with mixed success in terms of access to information and respect for the genuine inquiry processes which are at the heart of investigative journalism.

As media adviser at the Australian Conservation Foundation in Melbourne, Josh Meadows offered a helpful commitment to a sustainable jobs agenda and instantly understood the value of the phone inquiry (Authorized Quote from the ACF):

ACF is certainly aware of the importance of combining job generation with environmental protection.

In September 2020 ACF released a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) setting out how Gladstone can build on its success as an industrial and export centre to become a renewable energy powered hub for industries like aluminium, steel, cement and hydrogen.

Meanwhile, the cross the board consensus which saw the Palaszczuk Government comfortably re-elected on 31 October 2020 can be applied to a dozen or so Queensland federal seats which are currently help by the LNP.

A more broadly based Labor Movement through factional realignment has real potential to take Australians out of the excesses of the Gig economy without more corporate intrusions into the private lives of employees as advocated by Intelligence Studio to offer a more docile compliant workforce in which wealth accumulates and social democracy suffers more injustices (Image: Intelligence Studio):

 

 

It has been a rough week for the federal LNP. Its support for vetting of lowly employees contrasts with permissiveness in the corridors of power and influence.

Denis Bright is a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis is committed to citizen’s journalism from a critical structuralist perspective. Comments from insiders with a specialist knowledge of the topics covered are particularly welcome.

 

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14 comments

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  1. Phil Pryor

    We seem to have lost the correct normality, because of a crooked idiot named Warren Gamaliel Harding. There has never been a universal political normality. It might be marvellous if it arrives, sans turds, thieves, skites, knowalls, egomaniacs, impostors, duds, ambitious poverty driven wannabes, empty shells, and types like the depressing picture of a P M, our Poxed Mentality, and Mc Waggawanker, a vacuum within an emptiness surrounded by nothing disguised as a black hole. If Trump types are an “answer”, then the pope is an islamist mystic. It is normal in local politics to cheat, lie, exaggerate, remain fellatio friendly with a foreign media maggot muck peddling misfit, to avoid responsiblity, steal credit, cover up rubbish, coddle mates, network, take anything going from laid on pussy and piss, cheat and lie (oh, we did that) and claim amazing success for creating future shitpiles.

  2. Matters Not

    Always interesting Denis.

    You mention independent contractors but that’s the terminology of a yesteryear if not a yesterday – such is the ever accelerating pace of change. Independent contractors have now been promoted to partners and must suffer (or enjoy) what that change in legal terminology now brings.

    Yes that young girl or boy pedaling furiously through the driving rain with a backpack attached is now a legal partner with some of the largest corporations in the world. What a promotion. Now responsible for – everything! Think of the power. Think of the prestige. Fully fledged partners at such a tender age.

    Who said that there were no opportunities in this modern world when there’s so many partnerships waiting to be swooped up by any aspirational ‘go-getter’.

  3. New England Cocky

    Uhm ….. a corporate led ”recovery” is really a fascist state economy by another pseudonym. Establishing an elite of corporate executives, not just corporate owners, slashing the tax this elite has to pay and so generating economic inequality is a recipe for economic disaster.

  4. Matters Not

    Speaking of legal (and inaccurate) terminology.

    to have taxpayer funded coffee and drinks

    Legally speaking, taxpayer funds become government funds as soon as they are paid.

    Or at least that’s my understanding. And that applies to taxpayers like BHP, Com Bank or even baby Mary with the GST ice-block. And isn’t that the hard, cold legal reality?

    I know when I hand over my dollars to the butcher (under legal obligation to settle a debt I incurred) I ‘know’ that the money is no longer mine and the butcher also ‘knows’ that the dollars are now his – to do with them as he/she likes.

    But I suppose even some adults like their security blankets. (Present company excepted of course.) Yes, I know it’s just common sense but it does (perhaps) demonstrate that ‘common sense’ isn’t so common after all and as for it being sensible

  5. Paul

    Major Entrepreneurial Gigs of the World Unite-You have nothing to lose but your billions which are propped up by the use of global tax havens, corporate secrecy and benign Australian tax rules on internet advertising.

    Underemployed Australians are vilified by new restrictions on JobKeeper and Unemployment benefits while internet advertisers enjoy an apparent GST embargo on their own outreach.

    As Denis’ article tells us, corporate Australia is also able to pry into the private lives of new applicants for jobs through a network of vetting agencies, some with links to federal government recruitment.

    Thanks again Denis

  6. Nora

    Cheers to Simon Reeve who is a real apostle of enlightened compassion .

  7. Terence Mills

    The Supreme Court in the UK has made a definitive judgement on Uber drivers that will have an impact on the GIG economy in the UK and could be influential in determining whether GIG workers in Australia are employees or self employed contractors.

    Initially the Employment Tribunal in the UK determined that Uber drivers were employees and entitled to the benefits available to all employees including a minimum wage, paid annual and sick leave etc.
    Uber appealed against the employment tribunal decision but the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the ruling in November 2017.

    Uber then took the case to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the ruling in December 2018.

    The ruling last week was Uber’s last appeal, as the Supreme Court is Britain’s highest court, and it has the final say on legal matters.

    Delivering his judgement, Lord Leggatt said that the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Uber’s appeal that it was an intermediary party and stated that drivers should be considered to be working not only when driving a passenger, but whenever logged in to the app.

    The court considered several elements in its judgement:

    Uber set the fare which meant that they dictated how much drivers could earn

    Uber set the contract terms and drivers had no say in them

    Request for rides is constrained by Uber who can penalise drivers if they reject too many rides

    Uber monitors a driver’s service through the star rating and has the capacity to terminate the relationship if after repeated warnings this does not improve

    Looking at these and other factors, the court determined that drivers were in a position of subordination to Uber where the only way they could increase their earnings would be to work longer hours.

    Finally a decision from the courts that recognizes the reality of a GIG workers’ life.

    So far the Fair Work Commission in Australia have deemed these workers to be self employed contractors.

    Time to go to Court !

  8. Leila

    The words of the prophets were written on the subway walls in days of old, There is little soul in the gig economy if it runs solely for profit.

  9. Isabel

    Denis, thanks for a timely well-researched article about the Gig economy and unemployment.

  10. Tessa_M

    Good discussion about our all encompassing gig economy which is not often review so critically, Denis.

  11. James Robo

    I searched for the price of a new gas BBQ and now I get unsolicited digital advertisements for the latest prices and models available, often from online outlets.

    This is an example of the intrusions wrought by the gig economy.

    Pity we don’t get digital comments on the need for affordable houses and rents, protection of the reef or our threatened endangered special or even the need for peace and nuclear disarmament.

  12. Chris

    The gig economy is hear to stay but it must also build a democratic consensus and not be used to provide thirty more pieces of silver for its control agents.

  13. rubio@coast

    This morning’s BBC News (SBS Bulletin) confirms the plight of temporary and lower paid workers in Britain’s gig economy. Total youth unemployment is still well down on pre-COVID levels. Young people suffer most from this reduced employment and represent 60 per cent of the newly unemployed.

    Here in Australia, the Morrison Government is tightening the controls being imposed on unemployed workers for that $3.50 a day increase in the jobless allowance. Bosses can report people who refuse to take jobs offered to Centerelink and Services Australia.

    This gig economy certainly has elements of authoritarian practices.

    In Occupied France (1940-44), the Third Reich actually tried to use imported IBM technology to tighten up surveillance procedures and to smooth out transportation manoeuvres to work camps in France and Beyond. at a time when Fanta drinks from Coca Cola were the fashion.

    Time for the Resistance to get going here as the Morrison Government takes desperate measures which may not last the full term of the new current two budget strategies for an election in 2022 and not 7 August 2021 as originally planned.

    Current surveillance procedures do not extend however to measures against cash wages, failure to pay those state payroll taxes and gross wage theft in the workplace.

    Employing young peeople in the wrong category is another ruse: “Sorry we don’t have a spot in your professional field, but would you care to work on trial as an assistant. Our checks through Dodgy Employment Vetting Employment services, show that you are not a security. Why not give Trickle Down Enterprises a trial as a casual employee. It won’t cost us the earth as there is an employment subsidy available through Services Australia. We know that you are not the type to join a trade union to ask for back-pay as there is nothing on your profile that raises the possibility for such risks.”

    Great comments from New England Cocky and Matters Not. Keep up the resistance guys.

  14. Lara

    COVID and the rise of employment minimization in the gig economy have made live very difficult in the Philippines. Many families are now on food rations to survive in this so-called free society.

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