- The NSW government has revealed new proposed laws it says will solve problems around food delivery rider safety that lead to the deaths of five workers last year.
- The announcement follows the conclusion of a joint task force examining delivery worker safety, which the Transport Workers Union (TWU) left, claiming the government was caving to pressure from the global delivery giants.
- TWU national secretary Michael Kaine says the proposed laws show the NSW government has failed to meaningfully address gig worker rights.
- Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.
The Transport Workers Union has slammed new laws proposed by the NSW government as “a political fix,” as the state concludes its inquiry into delivery worker safety.
The proposed laws flagged by the state government will fine food delivery riders working for companies like Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Menulog for riding unsafely and issue them with identification numbers.
The announcement comes following the conclusion of The NSW Joint Taskforce into Food Delivery Rider Safety, which was established after four delivery workers died in Sydney last year, sparking widespread outrage over the lack of safety protections for riders.
The safety requirements will be the “toughest” in the country, the government says, with the police, SafeWork and Transport for NSW empowered to increase compliance activity.
They would require digital platforms to provide riders with specific personal protective equipment, as well as provide up-to-date training, which the government said it anticipates will result in minimal extra costs for the platforms as many have already instituted better safety measures.
However Michael Kaine, national secretary for TWU told Business Insider Australia the reforms represented a “devastating approach by the government” that would only make things worse.
The TWU pulled out of the government’s taskforce in April, citing concerns it was caving to pressure from the delivery companies.
New laws a political move influenced by the delivery giants, TWU secretary says
Kaine said that the government’s inquiry prevented unions and workers from putting forward evidence about the real pressures that led to the spate of rider deaths last year – mainly that delivery workers are on less than half the minimum wage, don’t have leave entitlements and don’t have the capacity to challenge arbitrary termination “because these companies deliberately misclassify them as independent contractors.”
Measures like government-issued identification tags serve to cover the state’s accountability for workers and merely address the symptoms rather than the cause, he said.
Kaine said the proposed laws show that the state government’s recommendations “don’t do anything in terms of accountability for those companies in terms of the conditions those workers have to endure.”
Instead they highlight the influence the delivery giants have had on the process.
“This is a political fix,” Kaine said. “These companies have hoodwinked the state government here.”
“It’s designed to make it look like the state government has fixed things, but it’s actually going to make it worse.”
While a recent landmark ruling by the Fair Work Commission (FWC) in Australia found that a Deliveroo worker was more like an employee than a contractor in an unfair dismissal case signals movement toward worker protections locally, globally the delivery giants have continued to put their weight behind maintaining the current business model.
In California earlier this year Uber spent US $700 million pushing for legislation that would exempt tech companies from complying with labour laws.
“The state government is pandering to their every whim,” Kaine said, including around what the scope of the enquiry would be, which the minister said would not address worker classification or worker compensation.
‘That’s the power of these companies.”
‘They just do it because they have to’
Maxime, 29, delivers for Uber Eats. He told Business Insider Australia he doesn’t see how the proposed laws around compliance and safety will improve his working conditions.
He said UberEats already requires its riders to complete safety courses that are provided to them on the app, but he’s unsure about compliance. “I don’t know if anyone checks them,” he said.
“They’re asking us to do a lot of safety tests on the app,” he said.
He also said his safety on the road was less important to him than his ability to earn a fair wage through delivery work, adding that he doesn’t expect the company to look after his safety when he is on the road.
“I don’t expect anything from them,” he said. “I know they are just doing that because of the law and not because they worry about my safety.”
“They just do it because they have to do it.”
What was more concerning, he said, was the drop in pay he’s seen since the start of the pandemic and has continued through 2021. He said what he is paid for an average local trip has dropped from between $6.50 and $8 to $5.
“At the end of the week, the difference is enormous,” he said. “$600 at least.”
Kaine said the only way to ensure protection for workers was with a federal approach.
“The federal government is in charge of workplace laws,” he said.
“It needs to put in place a standing body that can inquire into these forms of work…and put in place rights, obligations and accountability to make sure the work is performed fairly and ensure these companies are held accountable and can no longer exploit workers.”