‘Farcical’ NSW gig economy taskforce blows up

Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

The NSW government taskforce established to improve the safety of gig economy workers following the deaths of five delivery riders in two months is “farcical” and merely an attempt to “divert attention away from the global push for regulation”, according to the Transport Workers Union.

The union has quit the taskforce just a week before it is set to present the final Industry Action Plan, which it said will do nothing to address the “root causes of high rider deaths and injuries.

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) said concerns around economic pressures, fatigue rate research and potential regulation changes have been removed from the final report, leading the organisation to withdraw its support for the state government taskforce.

The Joint Taskforce on food delivery rider safety, led by SafeWork NSW and Transport for NSW, was established by the NSW government in November last year, following the deaths of five food delivery riders in the space of just two months. Four of these delivery riders died in Sydney.

Gig economy blow-up: Transport Workers Union national secretary Michael Kaine

The taskforce was looking into whether improvements are needed for the safety of riders, exploring the similarities between the recent deaths. The group released draft guidelines for industry consultation in February and is expected to release its final report next week.

But the TWU has labelled the taskforce’s work as “farcical”, saying that its “sustained refusal” to discuss regulation and the causes of the high death rates, such as economic pressures to work dangerously and with fatigue led to its decision to withdraw from it.

“The taskforce has continuously silenced workers’ concerns about exploitation and insisted that regulatory change is ‘beyond scope’. The TWU can only conclude that the taskforce was designed by the NSW government as a front to divert attention away from the global push for regulation,” the TWU said in a statement.

The union said this meant that there would be no delivery riders’ representation at the taskforce’s final roundtable meeting next week ahead of the release of the plan.

A spokesperson for SafeWork NSW said the organisation would continue to work with willing stakeholders.

“As the NSW regulator of workplace health and safety, SafeWork NSW will continue to work with all stakeholders who are willing to assist in continuing to improve safety outcomes for riders in the food delivery industry,” the spokesperson told InnovationAus.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said this final report intends to “absolve companies from addressing serious risk hazards and the government from addressing legislative gaps”.

“A taskforce set up to tackle the tragic deaths of riders that has continuously silenced workers’ key concerns for their safety is not worthy of our support,” Mr Kaine said.

“The NSW government’s intention is to distract from and undermine the push for regulatory change happening around the world, letting the government off the hook and giving a free pass to food delivery companies.

“It is deeply unsettling how little the NSW government cares that riders are being slaughtered on our roads. This is just a PR hazard that they want put to bed. The TWU will not support their quest to shut out riders’ concerns or solutions.”

In a letter to Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Anderson, the TWU said that three core issues of worker have been removed from the final draft of the report: the mention of regulatory change, fatigue rate statistics which were included in earlier drafts and research around the impact of low earnings on dangerous risk-taking behaviour.

“There is no justifiable reason why these systemic economic pressures which are central to poor safety outcomes would be purposefully excluded from the taskforce’s scope,” the TWU said in the letter.

“It has become clear that the true intention of this taskforce is to divert attention away from the global push for regulation to address sham business models that pay below minimum wage and force riders to work fatigued under unrealistic delivery schedules and without safety equipment or workers’ compensation insurance.

“Instead, the taskforce and its Industry Action Plan has created a set of weak recommendations which absolve companies from addressing serious risk hazards and the government from addressing legislative gaps. This is an appalling response to the tragic deaths.”

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