A proposal to ensure gig economy workers such as food delivery riders are paid the minimum wage has been welcomed by industry advocates.
Federal Labor has floated policy reforms that would challenge the current definition of an “independent contractor”, securing basic terms such as a guaranteed minimum wage for gig economy workers.
Advocates, who are concerned that such workers currently face “daily exploitation”, have repeatedly called for the gig economy to be better regulated.
In Australia, most gig economy workers are classified as independent contractors, not as employees, meaning they are not entitled to benefits such as minimum wages, superannuation, and workers compensation.
While some delivery companies do offer a level of cover, there is no legal requirement for businesses to do so.
Ash – who asked for his last name to be withheld – works as both a driver and delivery rider in Sydney.
He said the lack of some guaranteed work conditions took a heavy mental toll.
“It is effectively third world rights in a first world country,” he told SBS News.
“There is a lot of job insecurity that goes with this style of work. There has just been no regulation, no laws, that has caught up to the technology driving this all.”
Delivery rider Alex – who also asked for his last name to be withheld – said the employment model is “not viable”.
“It’s very bad what’s happening. The people that are riders are the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people in Australia,” he told SBS News.
“They are incredibly vulnerable and they are being exploited because of that vulnerability because they don’t feel they can say anything.”
Concerns about lack of minimum wage
Labor has foreshadowed a policy aimed at challenging the categorisation of gig workers as independent contractors.
Opposition industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said he was concerned gig economy companies were abusing the definition.
“We cannot have a situation in Australia where some people are working below the minimum wage,” he told SBS News.
“We have a situation in Australia where we’ve set a legal minimum, and then for a whole lot of people in the gig economy, we say, ‘but you don’t count’.”
The national minimum wage is currently $19.84 per hour.
Casual employees covered by the national minimum wage also get at least a 25 per cent casual loading.
Mr Burke said there needed to be a review of the classification of delivery drivers and riders.
“Someone driving their own heavy vehicle, they’ve got a mortgage over it, they employ someone to do the bookkeeping – there is no doubt that they’re an independent contractor,” he said.
“I just don’t accept for a minute that the visa worker with a second-hand bike, racing and running traffic lights trying to make ends meet has that sort of strength, that sort of independence.”
The Transport Workers Union has called for the government to implement a tribunal with powers to set minimum standards for gig-economy workers.
National secretary Michael Kaine said the union supported federally-binding regulation to ensure stronger rights for gig economy workers.
“Food delivery riders are literally dying because of Federal Government inaction,” he told SBS News.
“Their companies have no obligation to provide proper protective gear, training or insurance all because they have structured their businesses to avoid workplace rights for workers.
“The Federal Government is letting them get away with this.”
The union said any proposed regulations must be carefully considered to ensure they are flexible enough.
Ride Share Drivers’ Association Australia Secretary Les Johnson said it was common for migrants to feel pressured into taking up the insecure work arrangements.
“A lot of those people are newcomers to Australia and English is not their first language and as a result they grab any work they can to help put food on the table,” he told SBS News.
Work environment promotes ‘risk-taking behaviour’
The dangers of delivery work were put into the spotlight late last year after five delivery riders were killed while on the job.
Ash said the work environment he witnessed had promoted “risk-taking behaviour” in order to meet the time demands of deliveries.
“It is a work environment that promotes risk-taking behaviour for you to survive in it and keep your job,” he told SBS News.
“You really do feel the pressure to take the risk on the road to make the fast deliveries. Now it remains to be seen what can be done to implement change.”
Alex said he believed government regulation was the only way anything is “going to change”.
“If nothing comes from the government – I don’t see them changing there business model and their way of treating minimum standards of pay for workers.
“Unless there is legislation put in place … I don’t think anything is going to change.”
Labor is expected to unveil the new industrial relations policies next week.