By William Olson
The ever-increasing practices of home delivery of Chinese food, “Taco Tuesday” tacos, burgers, pizza, and other lunch or dinner items agreed upon as being quite delectable to one’s palate may be quite convenient in the realm of our fast-paced society.
However, do spare a kind thought or two for the good men and women who deliver your food on behalf of delivery services such as UberEats, Deliveroo, MenuLog, or DoorDash, and so on.
As well as those who drive for ride-sharing services such as Uber, Didi, or Ola, to name a few of those.
In a multi-university survey commissioned by the Victorian state government, workers in the gig economy – to the surprise of no one, really – are worse off in their compensation than regular casual workers are, and certainly versus those in secure employment.
The Victorian government’s report, from a survey done under the auspices of treasurer and industrial relations minister Tim Pallas, involved the legwork research performed by Queensland University of Technology, the University of Adelaide and University of Technology Sydney, with the intent of uncovering justifications about community concerns over wages and conditions in the gig economy.
Furthermore, the survey revealed unknown information about the nature and inner workings of the gig economy and its workforce – and perhaps some statistics that would shock the public.
While the report revealed that while nearly two-thirds of all Australians use gig economy delivery services, its workers are exploited in a manner even more shocking than originally assumed.
Some of the statistics, among roughly 14,000 respondents:
- Among more than 100 different companies in the gig economy, a ratio greater than one in three of its workers are employed by more than one platform, often via a variety of platform apps.
- The demographics tend towards younger people, and males.
- Those who speak English as their second language are 1.5 times more likely to engage as platform workers.
And then it gets more shocking – and, arguably, more inhumane and exploitative:
- More than 30 percent of respondents did not know whether their platform has a dispute resolution process.
- Nearly half report that their platform does not provide them with work-related insurance.
- Two out of every five respondents, when asked about the details of their remuneration, did not know any of those details. (Here’s a hint: as for salary alone, it’s less than the legal minimum wage outlined by the Fair Work Commission.)
- Gig economy workers are spending upwards of five hours per week on unpaid platform activities, ranging from seeking work, updating profiles, and ultimately quoting and searching and bidding for work.
Is the ignorance in a state of bliss here? Truly a case of not knowing terms, conditions, or even their own rights. Or even if they have any. Truth is, their rights are less than those of the typical worker – even those on casual status.
For gig economy workers, these are basically sweatshop conditions – if the ultra-modern sweatshop is comprised of any of a multitude of restaurants and anything between two and four wheels. And in many cases, pedal power.
Makes one ponder what recourse workers in the gig economy even have.
How can they right the wrongs thrust upon them? Can they unionise, even in a means of banding together? Can they collectively bargain? Or do can they even gain the rights to take any action whatsoever?
One would presume that as long as the perception exists that one not being an employee but rather that of a freelancer or independent contractor, for one company or several, those rights would be hard to come by. A ruling from one Canadian tribunal over the ability for gig economy workers to unionise earlier this year does give their Australian comrades a glimmer of hope. But how likely is that precedent to repeat itself in Australia?
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), at the height of its “Change The Rules” campaign two years ago, called for gig economy workers to be put on an equal footing as those with secure employment.
“Everyone deserves these rights. We need to change the rules so everyone has basic rights, including the right to collectively bargain,” said ACTU national secretary Sally McManus at the time.
It is a slow and arduous process to make those changes happen, but at least McManus and the ACTU have let the growing sector of the gig economy know that the union movement is on their side.
In any event, reform is needed to bring gig economy workers in line with the minimum national employment standards. Whether that happens in tribunals or the courts, or via collective bargaining, remains to be seen.
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