A Senate inquiry has called for ‘fundamental changes’ to the gig economy in Australia, with 15 recommendations it hopes will make platform work safer and fairer

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  • A landmark Senate inquiry has leveled 15 recommendations it hopes will make platform work safer and fairer for those participating in Australia’s gig economy.
  • Regulators should crack down on “practices that incentivise unsafe behaviour,” the report states.
  • Coalition members of the Senate Select Committee on Job Security opposed the interim report, calling it “partisan propaganda”.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

A landmark Senate inquiry says “fundamental” changes to Australia’s gig economy are required for insecure workers to participate safely, fairly, and with access to adequate workplace protections and compensation.

The Senate Select Committee on Job Security released its interim report on Thursday, outlining 15 recommendations it hopes will clarify the employment status of Australia’s gig workers, capture the scope of Australia’s gig economy in official figures, and, crucially, improve the workplace safety and conditions of “vulnerable” workers.

The report arrives after months of heated debate over the workplace rights of gig economy workers and the rights platforms should afford them — heightened by the deaths of five delivery app riders on New South Wales roads in late 2020.

The Select Committee’s findings primarily relate to platform workers who engage with apps like Uber or Deliveroo for rideshare and food delivery tasks.

Those platforms have long maintained workers operate under an independent contractor model, and the report acknowledges many workers in this space appreciate the flexibility which gig work affords.

But unlike many independent contractors, platform workers are often “heavily-dependent on the employer, and may have little control over their work, or how much they earn,” the report notes.

This lack of security and clarity around the sector cascades into health and safety issues for many gig workers, according to the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU).

In a submissions received by the inquiry, the TWU argued that workers can feel compelled to breach traffic laws to boost their delivery earnings, or log on to platforms while ill or injured.

The inquiry took a sympathetic view of these claims, finding that “unrealistic time and performance pressures, combined with high-risk work environments, and lack of training and appropriate protective equipment” put gig workers at risk while on the job.

“When these factors are combined with other elements of gig work—inadequate job security, earnings and conditions… it is clear that gig workers are vulnerable and have little capacity to make safety improvements to their work environment, to the detriment of them and their families.”

The report also found NSW’s Gig Economy Joint Taskforce — which this year and issued a new tranche of safety guidelines for platforms to follow, encouraging Uber to release new in-house safety checks — did not go far enough to address what the Senate inquiry sees as the root cause of those safety issues.

“The report does not address the safety implications of contracting arrangements, rates of pay, platform algorithms, or the issue of multi-apping,” the new report states.

As a result, the Select Committee has recommended that “as a matter of priority, Safe Work Australia develops meaningful, high-level guidelines on the application of the model Work Health and Safety Laws to the on-demand platform sector.”

“The guidance should be aimed at addressing practices that incentivise unsafe behaviour, as well as enforcing compliance with safety rules and obligations,” the report adds.

The report noted a lack of clarity around the employment status of workers in the gig economy has led to confusion over the rights and protections afforded to those who participate in the sector.

A recent ruling by the Fair Work Commission which found Deliveroo riders are closer to employees than contractors was also mentioned, with the Select Committee saying it “highlighted the significant control held by platform providers over how work is done, when it is done and who receives the work”.

The federal government should seek to expand the definitions of “employer” and “employee” under the Fair Work Act to more accurately describe working relationships in the gig economy, the Senate inquiry recommened.

The Fair Work Commission should also be empowered to “extend coverage of those rights when necessary to workers falling outside the expanded definition of employment, including low-leveraged and highly dependent workers so they can be provided with standards and protections under the Act”.

Workers in the sector should also have access to state-based workers’ compensation schemes regardless of their visa status, the report says, with platforms expected to foot the bill.

The scope and financial ramifications of the gig economy could be assessed by a new federal regulator, to which platforms provide pay rates, information on the number of hours worked, and data on the conditions surrounding that work.

Regarding gig workers who work as carers, the report says regulatory options should be considered to ensure “workers engaged to provide services funded through the National Disability Insurance Scheme are provided with fair pay and conditions, including those engaged through on-demand platforms”.

The federal and state governments should also consider providing these workers with portable long service leave, sick leave and other leave entitlements.

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan and Liberal Senator Ben Small, the only Coalition representatives in the Select Committee, disputed many of the claims issued by the broader report.

“The Australian labour market provides many different forms of work for people in different circumstances or with different needs, and the exponential growth of the on-demand economy is clear evidence of favour among hundreds of thousands of Australians, predominantly as an adjunct to other forms of income,” they said in a dissenting statement.

The report is “partisan propaganda of the worst kind,” they added.

Submissions to the Select Committee close August 31, with a final report to be tabled on November 30 this year.