Deliveroo has released data it says proves its riders value flexibility, as part of the company's push to change Australian workplace law

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  • Deliveroo has released research from a survey it conducted which it says proves its riders value the flexibility the gig economy offers.
  • It’s part of a push from Deliveroo to reform Australian law to allow it to offer benefits to its contractors without classifying them as employees.
  • Some see this as an attack on worker’s rights, with the Transport Workers Union saying the narrative around balancing flexibility and security is a “myth”.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Deliveroo has released research it claims proves its riders value both flexibility and security in their work, as part of the company’s push to reform regulation governing the gig economy. The union representing Deliveroo riders, however, maintains the company can easily offer benefits without making changes to Australia’s workplace laws.

According to a survey of 279 Australian Deliveroo contractors, conducted for the company by Censuswide, 49% of riders cited work/life balance as an important factor when considering what work to do, while benefits like sick pay was cited by 44% of riders. The most popular reason was fair compensation, which was cited by 56% of riders.

The survey found the top three reasons riders choose to work in the gig economy are earning money while studying, being their own boss, and working around a flexible schedule.

Like many gig economy firms, Deliveroo often finds itself operating in the grey areas of workplace law, and it constantly battles to prevent its riders being classified as employees. Unions and employee advocates, on the other hand, argue Deliveroo riders ought to be entitled to the same benefits as any other worker.

Deliveroo says it wants to be able to provide benefits to its riders, including “some form of paid sick or carer’s leave”, without having to classify them as employees.

The company claims the current Australian framework for calculating entitlements like paid leave is too inflexible for companies operating under the gig economy model, as it is not possible to accurately determine “ordinary hours of work” when riders set their own hours and breaks, and are often working for competitors simultaneously.

Ed McManus, CEO for Deliveroo Australia, said in a statement the company understands its employees do want security, but argues they also value the flexibility offered by the gig economy

“The insights highlight the unique opportunities the gig economy offers, such as being able to earn while balancing study or family commitments, or simply acting as a transitionary phase in between careers.

“We recognise that riders also want security, which is why we have called for an end to the trade-off between flexibility and security that exists in employment law. Riders should have the best of both worlds: benefits as well as the ability to choose when and where to work.

“That is what riders want so that is what we are campaigning for.”

The union representing riders opposes the move

However, the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which has represented gig economy workers in several high-profile disputes, argues Deliveroo’s narrative about the balance between flexibility and security is a false one.

“It is a myth for Deliveroo to state that workers can’t have rights and flexibility at the same time,” Michael Kaine, national secretary for the TWU, told Business Insider Australia.

“The company could pay its food delivery riders guaranteed wages and give them sick pay, annual leave and proper insurance when injured on the job in the morning if it wanted to.

“Deliveroo’s own survey clearly states what is important to its workers: being able to earn a decent wage while getting the protections they need.”

Kaine said his union is frequently contacted by riders who have been “sacked without warning or reason” and injured on the job without compensation.

“Deliveroo needs to address these problems rather than attempting to cover up the extent to which they are letting their workforce down,” he said.

Deliveroo has been pushing for Australian reform since earlier this year

In February, Deliveroo made a submission to the Victorian Government’s inquiry into the on-demand workforce, advocating for reform of the sector.

In the submission, Deliveroo argued classifying its riders as employees would be bad for both riders and consumers.

“Should riders be reclassified as “employees” and Deliveroo had to pay riders and provide work-related benefits according to a traditional definition of “ordinary hours of work”, demand for work with Deliveroo would likely fall as it would no longer be highly flexible in nature and therefore not as popular,” the submission read.

The tradeoff, according to Deliveroo’s submission, is a framework which allows riders to accrue benefits “on the basis of work performed” – such as the number of deliveries completed, or the dollar value of fees earned – rather than on the basis of hours worked.

The company’s push is part of a global strategy to change the law to avoid having to classify their riders as employees.

In 2017, Deliveroo made a similar submission to the UK government’s review of modern working practices, using the same language around “[ending] the trade off between flexibility and security”.

Deliveroo, along with other gig economy firms like Uber, point to the “social charter” model available in France, which enables companies in the sector to list benefits and training offered to contractors without entering into a formal employment relationship.

The company describes the French example as a “third way” which provides riders with proper protection without enforcing the rigidity of traditional employer/employee relationships.

However, opponents argue it is a backdoor for companies like Deliveroo to offer significantly weaker protections to workers than is otherwise mandated by law.

Have a tip about Deliveroo Australia’s advocacy for changes to employment law? Contact the writer here.

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