The federal government will spend $1.4 million on a platform to push just 80 unemployed young Australians into gig economy work with the likes Uber and Airtasker in a move branded “outrageous” by the Opposition.
The government is providing funding to a range “innovative” programs with the aim of getting students and former students off welfare, including a platform connecting unemployed former students with gig economy work, neuroplasticity training, and a mobile goal setting mobile app.
Announced on Tuesday just as the nation’s attention was on marriage equality postal survey results, the funding is through the Department of Social Services’ Try, Test and Learn Fund.
This $96.1 million fund is focused on “delivering trials of new or innovative approaches to assist some of the most vulnerable in society into stable, sustainable employment”.
The latest round of grants includes $1.4 million to a platform to connect unemployed former students with gig economy work, $1.8 million to face-to-face neuroplasticity training for TAFE students and $1.3 million for a mobile goal setting app.
“These initiatives will either support students in meeting their academic and employment aspirations through practical work experience, resilience training, goal setting, and counselling, or assist former students with the transition from study to the workforce,” Social Services minister Christian Porter said in a statement.
“Investing in trial initiatives through the Try, Test and Learn Fund will build an evidence base that informs future investment in projects that improve the lives of students at risk of unemployment, and as a consequence give taxpayers value for money.”
The government will provide $1.4 million in funding to Y4Y Youth Force, for a two year trial of a digital platform connecting unemployed former students with short-term employment opportunities in the task-based gig economy.
The trial will involve 80 unemployed former students in Melbourne, Perth and Hobart. The initiative is an expansion of a trial currently being run by non-profit social organisation Whitelion.
A government fact sheet said these tasks could include gardening, driving and delivery, catering and hospitality and child mind, while gig economy platforms include the likes of Uber, Deliveroo and Airtasker.
Unions, social groups and opposition politicians have reacted in anger to the schemes, especially plans to encourage unemployed young Australians to participate in the gig economy.
Labor MP Lisa Chesters branded said the initiative was “outrageous”, while ACT Unions secretary Alexander White said it was a “disgusting move” that will “further undermine workplace laws and exploit young workers”.
“Instead of properly funding TAFE, the Turnbull government is encouraging the expansion of under-regulated gig economy,” the Australian Council of Trade Unions tweeted.
The government said work in the gig economy will improve young Australians’ chances of finding full-time employment.
“These jobs will help participants build work experience and give them the confidence to take the next step into long-term employment,” the fact sheet said.
But a social services department spokesperson said there is no research to back this up.
“The purpose of these initiatives is to test whether an intervention works to reduce long-term reliance on welfare. It is not possible to predict success rates in advance – this is the purpose of testing new approaches,” the department spokesperson told InnovationAus.com.
The students involved in the trial will also receive two weeks of “general skills training” and additional sector-specific training by request.
The government said the initiative aims to help the “development of the capacity of participants to engage with the emerging task-based economy”.
“This will facilitate the development of work skills and real experience and portfolio development; the result of which is longer-term employment opportunities. It may also stimulate interest in further education,” the fact sheet said.
“This initiative will provide evidence on the effectiveness of supporting young people to access short-term work through the task-based economy, as a way to supporting their longer-term engagement at work.”
Gig economy companies like Uber, Deliveroo and Airtasker have been surrounded by controversy in terms of workers rights and the exploitation of vulnerable people recently, centring on the classification of workers, lack of insurance and healthcare and conditions of work.
Uber is also currently the subject of a Fair Work Ombudsman investigation. Launched in June, the Ombudsman is looking at whether Uber’s driver contracts are in breach of federal workplace laws.
As part of the probe, the Ombudsman will be interviewing Uber drivers, many of whom claim they should be classified as employers as Uber controls most aspects of their work.
The service provider behind Y4Y Youth Force will be responsible for selecting which gig economy startups are including in the trial, the government spokesperson said.
Signing up to gig economy platforms like Uber and Airtasker is free for users on both sides, but the government has allocated $17,500 in funding for each of the 80 former student to be signed up to the digital platform.
The department spokesperson said most of the allocated funding will go towards the accompanying training program for the participants.
“Y4Y Youth Force is designed to help young, disadvantaged people, who face multiple barriers to employment, develop work skills and an employment history through engaging with the gig economy,” the spokesperson said.
“Many of these young people require individualised support to help them overcome the barriers they face, so that they can become employable for the long term.
“Much of the funding for this project is earmarked for a range of intensive support, as well as skills training, and developing a digital platform to connect students to job opportunities.”
Concerns have been raised about conditions in the gig economy for workers, and the lack of superannuation or other benefits.
A recent report by UTS Future of Work research director Sarah Kaine found that the gig economy will create social classes and divide in Australia, with issues around taxation, working conditions, and the companies operating outside of existing Australian labour laws.
The government said that the service provider behind Y4Y Youth Force will be responsible for providing insurance to the participating young Australians.
“The selected service provider for the Y4Y Youth Force initiative will provide support to participating students, and ensure that they are prepared for work in the gig economy,” the spokesperson said.
“The successful provider will also provide insurance and occupational health and safety processes to manage risks.”
The spokesperson said that if 20 per cent (17 people) of the participants in the trial move off welfare then that will outweigh the $1.4 million in funding.
Another initiative to receive funding from the government is the “Rewire the Brain”, which will be provided $1.8 million for a 18 month trial with 240 young students in Sydney and Brisbane.
The initiative, co-designed by Pathways to Resilience Trust and Stronger Brains, will involve delivering “face-to-face and computer-based training” to improve the “cognitive functioning and social and emotional skills” of TAFE students.
The initiative aims to improve these students’ memory, processing speed of their brains, social interaction and resilience skills, according to a government fact sheet.
It is trying to increase attendance and reduce drop-out rates among the participants by “equipping them with the skills to complete their studies”.
“This initiative is the first of its kind in Australian social policy and is based on the relatively new understanding that like a muscle, the brain can be trained and improved,” the fact sheet said.
The fund also dished out money for the development of a mobile goal setting app to help “strengthen students’ resilience”.
As part of the $1.3 million trial, 10,000 young students in NSW will use a mobile app and website that encourages them to set individualised short and long-term goals.
Designed by Behavioural Insights Team Australia, the app will send out “nudge text messages” to participants to “assist students to achieve their set goals”.
The content of these messages will be based on behavioural insights. The initiative also aims to increase attendance and reduce drop-out rates among the students.
“This trial will be the first of its type in Australia. It will provide evidence on the effectiveness of using behaviorally-informed text messages and technology to improve student participation and engagement in Australia,” the government said.