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The inhumanity around gig economy jobs

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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15 comments

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  1. New England Cocky

    Time to shut down the “Gig Economy” because it robs workers of dignity and exploits workers for the profit of the bosses. Moreover, it demonstrates that the Australian national economy has tanked under the unimaginative, rudderless ‘guidance’ of the ‘no policies to benefit Australian voters’ COALition misgovernment since 2013.

    It is ironic that this is a self-inflicted wound caused by Australian voters preferring ‘no policies’ to well presented policies to benefit all Australians.

  2. Stephengb

    NEC

    Yes I find it quite disturbing that enough voters voted a Political Party back into power when one of its high powered cabinet mnisters (Mathias Gorman ) publically announced, not long before the election, (8 Mar 2019) that low wages “is a deliberate feature of our economic architecture.”

    What is more it was reported by Sky and SBS, and the ALP shadow m8n8sterx referee to it several times leading up to the election.

    So if the majority of votes and preferences, whent to the LNP after that tells me that the ,majority population that voted actually voted to keep their own incomes down (91% of votes registered to vote nearly 16.5 Million voters)

    Of the total voters only 30% voted LNP but the LNP gained 23% more votes by preferences, more than 50% of the votex whent to the LNP, that os a hell of lot of low wage earners and PAYG taxoayers who voted to be shafted for another 3 years.

    Hmmm intelligence quotient comes to mind – sorry I meant ‘seriously stupid’ !

  3. Jack sprat

    Uber largest taxi company in the world does not own a taxi .Air b and b largest hotel chain in the world does not own a hotel .Amazon the largest retailer in the world does not own a regular store. All compete with traditional industries which are regulated yet they are not . if your business model is entirely based on the holy cow of the Internet you are allowed to avoid regulation and tax whilst exploiting workers .

  4. totaram

    Stephengb: “Of the total voters only 30% voted LNP but the LNP gained 23% more votes by preferences, more than 50% of the votex whent to the LNP, that os a hell of lot of low wage earners and PAYG taxoayers who voted to be shafted for another 3 years.”

    So true, but they didn’t know it and they don’t know it even now! How good is that? It’s all because of the wonderful free and fearless mass-media that we have – Josef Goebbels’ wet-dream!

    Nothing to do with IQ. If the information you have is flawed, there isn’t much you can do about it. The question then is: what can the rest of us do about it?
    I’m not holding my breath.

  5. Bruce White

    The toilet paper is starting to run out again fellers.Second wave of the panic (A contraction of the word pandemic,) ironic isn’t It?

  6. Richard Leggatt

    Step One: Vote in a Government that cares for people by creating a Job Guarantee.
    Step Two: Employ thousands of currently unemployed to expand Centrelink.
    Step Three: Make Centrelink the portal for ALL human services.
    Step Four: Create a three digit phone number nationwide for all human service emergencies. Family violence, mental health, etc. etc. etc. etc.
    Step Five: Tell business you’re going to relieve them of red tape but demand increased expectations. (to be discussed later)
    Step Six: The Government takes over payment of all entitlements.
    Step Seven: Legislate that EVERY Australian is entitled to four weeks paid leave, Twelve Months paid Maternity/Paternity leave, one weeks sick leave, with immediate transfer to the NDIS for longer illnesses. (During a pandemic paid sick leave would expand to accommodate any isolation period required: )
    Step Eight: Have everyone report income to Centrelink weekly online including and especially the Gig economy and low wage workers. They will then accrue entitlements Pro rata, or top up income via the JG. Low wage workers especially will have their pay rates checked automatically, and Employers counselled…..fined….jailed……For breaches.
    Reporting is not compulsory but it will mean you forgo benefits pro rata during any non-reporting period.

  7. New England Cocky

    @Richard Leggett: Sounds like you are proposing the Universal Basic Income (UBI) that was trialled with great success in Canada before the return of the conservative Harper government terminated the five (5) year trial. Later analysis of the longitudinal data provided by participants showed that the cost of UBI was LESS than the savings to the Canadian Health Budget!! It paid for itself!!

    Rutger Bregman, 2017, Utopia for Realists, Bloomsbury, ISBN 978-1-4088-9026-4; epub: 978-4088-9025-7

  8. andy56

    The gig economy is a joke on us. Its passed on as having benefits for workers. The reality is, its rigged. In theory you can pickup as much work as you want, but in reality, its stacked against you. Its like a franchise and we all know how franchises have been squeezed. When ever i hear some smart arse CEO espousing the virtues, the first thing i do is look in the car park. Their wealth is built on your sickleave, super, annual holidays and YOUR LIFE because you will be working 60plus hrs to make ends meet. Wake up people, is another 7/11 wages fraud. Just another form of SCAM

  9. wam

    Seems like all rapacious septic ‘app’ based companies should be destroyed by the tax office targeting the Australian workers for not withholding the 45% tax or by making the worker pay tax on income before paying overseas companies?
    But no matter what the money is the job is the thing. So no pay rises is awful to bleeding heart retirees, the unions and permanent employees but the workers at the poor end are terrified of losing their jobs and the lnp are good at preying on that fear by making labor out as fools of the loonies and risky managers. The facts show that to be absolute bullshit but the perception has gone unchallenged by labor and the rabbottians perpetuating the lies are left on TV repeating the lies over and over.
    Labor and the loonies is a powerful slogan confirming labor costs jobs. QED two labor seats gone in Townwsville and 3million from labor to the loonies.

  10. andy56

    Richard leggart, your list is compelling but its flaying in all directions. It has no focus so i dont know how anyone can formulate a plan without knowing what your objectives are.
    You have to postulate your objective, then a plan where you can add the “nails to the wood”.

    The last thing we need is to employ people in government who do fuck all. And centerlink people are just robotrons filling the different shaped holes with equaly different shapped pegs. Its a fucking gag, no? 10,000 extras at $100,000 a year can support 40,000 a year on $25,000 a year UBI. Plain fucking maths, without any outside agenda.

    the economy has shaped itself because governments let go of the levers and i dont think its going to be easy to turn around without an all encompasing agenda. Many businesses only survive because they can rig the system. So fundamentaly the system needs rejigging.

    Where to start and where do you end up? I think a good start would be to employ engineering minds rather than economic minds. Economic minds seem to be concerned with modeling behaviours with simple assumptions about what humans do. Engineering minds use building blocks( science based) to construct something.
    So fundamentaly, you need to know what you want from the system before you start doing anything. The libs are starting from an IDEOLOGY and all their ideas stem from that. I think their IDEOLOGY is the problem because it assumes we all want to be 17th century protestants. It pays no heed to any form of logic apart from its own twisted thinking.
    A UBI would be a good way to clear out ideology and use some engineering nouse to get a society and thus economy we all want, not one we all have to suffer.

  11. andy56

    Further to my UBI sentiment, once a UBI is up and running, you will see that “economists ” and governments will see the world through prescription glasses rather than $20 sunnies from the servo.
    Centerlink gone, “pensioner” terminology and pidgeon holing gone, another discussion on what to do with “super” capital to help the economy along. We can revist employment conditions, unions will be important in a transitional way. Government will be forced to plan and not just let things happen. We currently only see government as patching the holes rather than building a society we want.
    its 2020, not 1720. We can do much better than stumble along in ignorance. Government helping rather than kicking us when we are down.

    This is not revolutionary ideology, its an evolution of thought. Its accepting of the reality that technology brings us new tools.

  12. andy56

    hey, the mind keeps ticking over. Technology brings us new tools and all the current ideology can do is use those tools to maintain a staus quo of sorts. We are still in the mindset of ” and the operator says 40cents more for the next three minutes…..”

    Think of it this way, UBI, the old cliche of pensioners squeezing every last fucking dollar to make ends meet will be a relic. A good first step in ANTI AGISM.

  13. Richard Leggatt

    Andy 56. I don’t see requesting a job guarantee and suggesting that we direct all social needs through a single portal (Centrelink) as “flaying in all directions” (I think you mean flailing) It seems pretty focused to me. People (for example) with mental health needs would benefit greatly from a single number where their needs are assessed and handed off to a case manager who would stay with them through the entire episode.
    Suggesting that ALL Australians should be eligible for the same basic entitlements, also seems pretty focused.

  14. andy56

    I think you are Richard. Job guarantee and funneling all payments through a single portal is adding to the problems not a solution. Its adding to the mess we currently have. Job guarantee for a start is very inefficient. for example, you create 10,000 jobs at 50,000 a year. It will end up costing 100,000 because you know those protestants will want checks and balances ( and another bureaucracy layer) . For the same money, you can support 40,000 people on 25,000 in UBI a year. NO EXTRA bureaucracy involved but lots becomes redundant.
    The one portal seems fine but you then start to employ gestapo methods to create checks and balances, because you know, people cant earn more than a few dollars more, thats double dipping.
    More efficient to just give a UBI and then tax earnings. ( you can have a sliding scale, if your imaginative enough to understand).
    Richard , this is the same thinking that created Super. How to fit a repair on an ideology rather than fix the pension problem up front. If you link pensioners to the UBI, you get rid of other stupidities in our thinking. $120b we currently squirel away from the economy in super can be put to better use helping our economy. There are other benefits too, but these are pretty big in my opinion

  15. andy56

    You dont have to be an economist top see where our economy is going. From an engineering perspective, its designed haphazardly.
    $250b a year gets sucked out in mortgage repayments and $120b a yr gets sucked out by super deposits. On top of that, houseing is way way too expensive, we exported all our jobs to concentrate on Coal, Gas and Iron ore. We have created a self made hole thats spiraling down. Lack of jobs is a direct consequence, not something thats an unfortunate accident. To my thinking, you need to construct an edifice that has good foundations and the economy can thrive on top. We seem to be hell bent on white anting the very foundations.
    Unemployment cannot be fixed. Its part of the systemic ideological drive . The virus has just brought everything into focus. So instead of coming up with job guarantee and other PATCHES, lets think outside the box. How can the system be redesigned from the bottom up?The future is here now, we cannot afford to waste a century learning the hard way. UBI gives us a way forward.

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