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Deliveroo trials youth employment program amidst gig economy scrutiny

Restaurant delivery service Deliveroo has partnered with Whitelion to help long-term unemployed young people from at-risk backgrounds into work.

The initiative is part of the government-funded Youth for Youth (Y4Y) Youth Force program, which provides young people with 10 weeks of professional development and on-the-job training.

Deliveroo is among a range of employers involved in monitoring how regularly and successfully the young people work, which Whitelion will then use to assess how ready they are for the wider world of work and what other training or coaching may be required.

While Australia’s unemployment rate is relatively low at around 5.4 per cent, youth unemployment is 13.5 per cent, higher than in other developed economies.

Deliveroo country manager Levi Aron told Internet Retailing the company’s awareness of this issue drove its decision to participate in the Y4Y program.

“We came across an article last November talking about Y4Y and reached out to Whitelion and said we’d love to be involved. We’ve always known that youth unemployment sits at a high level,” he said.

Aron noted that youth unemployment is a personal issue for him.

“I’ve got young teenagers looking for work and we’ve got young people coming through our offices. I know a lot of young people lack that confidence [to enter the workforce],” he said.

Y4Y participants will go through the same onboarding process as any other Deliveroo rider to learn how to interact with restaurants and customers, handle food safely and ride safely.

However, they will receive additional support from Whitelion to register for an ABN, fill out application forms and access bike equipment.

Y4Y participants will also be paid for any deliveries they make on the same terms as existing riders. Deliveroo, meanwhile, is not being paid to participate in the program and will not benefit from any

If the initial trial proves successful, Deliveroo said it will open up the pathway to potentially hundreds more participants in future.

Gig economy under scrutiny

According to Whitelion, 65 per cent of the young people it surveyed said they would be interested in working in the gig economy, a labour market dominated by companies like Uber, Airtasker and Deliveroo.

Deliveroo said there are several benefits to the gig economy, since workers have total control over when and how they work.

However, the concept has come under scrutiny, with some saying gig economy workers don’t receive the same protections and benefits as employees, though they often have to wear a uniform and – some claim – work set rosters.

According to Aron, Deliveroo riders can choose to make a single delivery or several at their own discretion and are paid per delivery. He said Deliveroo would like to extend further benefits to riders, such as sick leave, but is hampered by outdated labour laws.

“The current Australian employment law restricts companies like us from offering additional benefits to self-employed riders without making them employees. [Our riders] don’t want to be employees, they don’t want to work part-time or full time or in three-hour shifts, they want to be able to do one delivery or no deliveries for a week,” he said.

“At the end of the day what we’re trying to do with the gig economy is end the trade-off between flexibility and security.”

Victorian government closes loopholes

The Victorian government is looking to ensure gig economy employers live up to that promise.

Industrial Relations Minister Natalie Hutchins is on Tuesday expected to announce changes to bring workers with digital delivery platforms under the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Act.

As part of the reforms, businesses would be required to pay owner-drivers within 30 days of receiving an invoice or face penalties.

A loophole preventing some of these gig economy workers from accessing the Victorian Small Business Commission and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal would also be abolished.

The Victorian Wage Inspectorate is to be tasked with enforcing the reforms with $5.5 million provided in the May state budget.

“These reforms respond to changes within the industry and the emergence of online delivery platforms, to ensure the laws that govern these businesses continue are effective and drivers are protected,” Ms Hutchins said in a statement.

She said a review of the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Act had found widespread non-compliance by hirers and brokers which put workers’ safety and incomes at risk.

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