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Gig economy failing workers, report finds

On-demand work platforms have been outed in a report for deliberately structuring worker arrangements to avoid Australian regulations.

The platforms – such as Uber, Deliveroo and AirTasker – have been under scrutiny from a Victorian government-commissioned inquiry since September 2018.

Almost 100 written submissions were made and 200 people consulted during the inquiry, which made 20 recommendations.

“Platforms have been deliberate in framing their arrangements with workers,” the report released on Wednesday found.

“This enables platforms to avoid the operation of close and detailed labour regulation while other businesses are carrying the costs of complying with those requirements.”

The inquiry found 18.6 per cent of gig economy workers did transport or delivery jobs, the largest slice of the digital platform work.

An Uber spokeswoman told AAP the organisation welcomed the report.
“The inquiry confirms what people who drive and deliver with Uber tell us: they value the freedom of being their own boss,” she said on Wednesday.

“They want to choose if, when and where they earn. More than 90 per cent of driver and delivery-partners in Australia tell us that this flexibility is the key attraction to using the Uber apps.”

While admitting that platform work in Australia is diverse, Uber says the flexibility shouldn’t come at the expense of job security and support.

“Any reforms will require input from workers, the community and business and we look forward to being a part of that conversation,” she said.

A Deliveroo spokeswoman told AAP that riders “want to be empowered to set their own work patterns and decide when and where to work”, which is why it offers the “popular flexible, self-employed work.

“We have long argued for reform to the on-demand economy to increase riders’ security and protect flexibility, which is in line with riders’ wishes, and we would support any measures that achieve this.”

But the uncertain work status can have consequences when it comes to superannuation and workers’ compensation.

The federal government is responsible for national workplace laws, so it should take responsibility for change, according to the inquiry.

In the absence of Commonwealth leadership, the Victorian government should deliver more certainty, fairness and choice for platform workers in the state, it also recommends.

Victorian Trades Hall Council’s Luke Hilakari said the laws needed to be changed to ensure gig workers have the same rights as others.

“Our employment and occupational health and safety laws must be updated to protect gig economy workers from these unscrupulous employment practices,” Hilakari said.

The Transport Workers’ Union also wants the federal government to regulate the gig economy to better support workers’ rights.

Federal Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter has yet to read the report but he told AAP the gig economy presented many challenges.

“However, it is clear that the evolution of the gig economy presents significant opportunities for flexibility and innovation for Australia,” he said.

“It also presents challenges which the government is committed to addressing. This includes, for example, sham contracting which can rob workers of lawful entitlements and creates an unlevel playing field by giving unscrupulous employers an advantage over their competitors.”

In the last budget, the federal government handed over an extra $9.2 million to the Fair Work Ombudsman to establish a dedicated sham contracting unit to crack down on the practice.

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