The Greens have thrown down the gauntlet on the gig economy, placing pressure on the government and Opposition to back new regulations to ensure minimum wage and benefits for workers.
The move follows a long-running campaign from several Australian unions and an ongoing debate in Canberra over the gig economy.
The Fair Work Amendment (Making Australia More Equal) Bill 2018 was moved in the lower house by Greens MP Adam Bandt as a private member’s bill on Monday.
The Bill amends the Fair Work Act to give the Fair Work Commission the power to issue Minimum Entitlements Orders to gig economy companies, ensuring that their contractors receive the minimum wage, annual leave and superannuation contributions.
The bill is highly unlikely to pass through the lower house and is mainly an attempt to wedge the Opposition on the issue, with Labor previously throwing support behind regulating the gig economy. It’s unlikely to receive support from the government, with the Employment Minister previously warning against regulation of the new gig economy.
The Transport Workers Union launched a major campaign on gig economy workers’ rights earlier this year, with shadow workplace minister Brendan O’Connor lending his support to a rally in February.
Currently, workers in the gig economy are commonly classified as independent contractors, allowing them to skirt the Fair Work Act and avoid paying entitlements and a minimum wage. Mr Bandt said the bill would ensure there is an “equal floor” for all Australian workers, regardless of how the global tech companies choose to classify them.
The Greens bill would extend these entitlements to workers in the gig economy and others in non-standard working conditions.
Mr Bandt spoke on the bill in Parliament on Monday morning.
“Whether we like it or not, technology is fundamentally reshaping the nature of work. If we don’t change the rules, every advancement made in the name of convenience may be a setback for decent paying conditions for those who help make our lives more convenient,” Mr Bandt said.
“Because the technology that is enabling the new economy has no regard for minimum standards and practices, without new laws we may end up with 21st century technology but 19th century work practices. It’s not our job to hold back technological advancements, but it is our job to make sure society keeps up and the new economy doesn’t come at the cost of being able to live a decent life.”
The Greens have placed pressure on the government and the Opposition to support the bill as is, but both are unlikely to do so
“The words that will broaden protections for workers in the gig economy are in this bill. The only thing that needs to happen now is for the people on all sides of Parliament to put aside politics and vote for this important, timely bill,” Mr Bandt said.
“I would hope it will get the support of members of the government. They hear from small businesses that say that because they don’t have the resources to enter into these clever arrangements, they’re getting undercut by the big corporations.
“And I hope it gets support from the Opposition because they have said that these people need to be looked after and their rights at work be protected. There’s no reason why this bill could not proceed through Parliament right now.”
The Bill was not discussed further on Monday and will be debated during the next sitting.
TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said the union has already reached out to the Greens to have discussions with the party, workers and the Opposition.
“Workers in the on-demand economy are being miserably let down by greedy corporations, a federal government that has teamed up with them, and a weak industrial relations system that is too neutered to address their problems. The Greens should be congratulated for adding their voice to the Labor Party and on-demand economy workers which want to see these problems addressed,” Mr Sheldon told InnovationAus.com.
A recent TWU survey of on-demand food delivery riders found that three quarters of those surveyed were earning below minimum wage, while half knew someone that had been injured on the job.
“Change is needed urgently to resolve the many injustices occurring in the on-demand economy every day. The on-demand economy is a tired example of the old-fashioned exploitation at play in modern Australia. The year may be 2018 but for some workers it looks a lot like the 1800s,” Mr Sheldon said.
“Meanwhile, our federal government encourages these tech billionaires to exploit our communities, saying, in the words of Workplace Minister Craig Laundy, the system is ‘working exactly as it was designed to function’.”
The Opposition has previously backed the concept of regulating the gig economy to ensure fair working conditions, with shadow workplace employment and workplace relations minister Brendan O’Connor saying that it is “vital” that the government work with the tech sector to “ensure employees’ rights are respected and their conditions enhanced”.
The government has previously warned against regulating the gig economy, with small and family business and workplace minister Craig Laundy saying this could “stifle” innovation.
At her National Press Club address in March, ACTU chief Sally McManus said that industrial relations law is at least 10 years behind the gig economy.
“Workplace laws written before Uber and written before the global financial crisis are not able to do the job of ensuring a fair go for working people today. The workforce of today is vastly different to the workforce of 10 years ago. Corporations have used their power to drive holes through our rights converting once steady jobs into insecure jobs, cutting and holding down wages,” Ms McManus said.
“Technology has changed the workplace and the business model of the so-called gig economy sidesteps all the workers’ rights. Delivery drivers using apps have less rights than workers a hundred years ago.”