An Uber-commissioned report providing a glowing picture of the treatment of UberEats workers does not match with previous research and ignores many of the negative aspects associated with work in the gig economy, according to the Transport Workers Union and a leading academic.
Uber released a report it commissioned, conducted by Accenture, on Tuesday morning, through a drop to The Australian newspaper. The report praised the benefits of working for UberEats and the apparent positive impact the company had during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It comes after the deaths of five delivery riders in Australia in the space of two months late last year, intensifying calls for further regulation of the gig economy.
The new Uber-commissioned report found that the average take home pay for a Sydney UberEats delivery worker during meal times is $21.55, well above the minimum wage.
It also said that the gig economy company created 59,000 “work opportunities” in Australia last year, and that the much-publicised flexibility of the gig economy is a key selling point.
The news report said that UberEats delivery workers “typically earned $21.55 an hour” last year but did not include that the statistic relates work in Sydney during peak meal-time hours. That figure also doesn’t take into account the lack of benefits associated with employment, including sick leave, penalty rates and superannuation.
It also claimed that the report showed that Uber is Australia’s second biggest employer, despite the company strenuously denying around the world that any of its drivers and riders are employees.
The report’s findings are in stark contrast to a Transport Workers Union (TWU) survey of UberEats delivery drivers and riders last year, which found that these people earn on average $10.42 per hour after expenses, and that nine out of 10 riders are now making less than before the pandemic.
Uber’s report is an average hourly rate based just on the popular meal-times during the day in Sydney only.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said that if the Uber report is true, the company should start paying that as a regular hourly wage for its workers.
“If, as Uber claims, its workforce is earning more than the minimum wage, it should have no problem providing an iron-clad, legally-enforceable commitment to paying that amount to every hour worked,” Mr Kaine said.
“Of course, Uber won’t make that commitment. And that tells you everything you need to know about this company’s conduct and the company-commissioned research making this claim.”
The working conditions in the gig economy are a “moral failure” requiring reform from politicians, Mr Kaine said.
“At least five delivery riders have paid for the reckless practices of gig economy companies with their lives in the last year. The TWU stands by its own survey showing food delivery workers earn almost half the minimum wage after expenses,” he said.
“If a waste disposal company dumps toxic sludge into a river or a property developer bribes a local politician, we rightly see it as a breach of regulation and enforce penalties. But when a gig economy outfit like Uber circumvents the minimum wage, it is somehow celebrated as innovation.
“In truth the working conditions of the gig economy are a moral failure which require brave reform from politicians and regulators.”
Speaking on ABC Radio National on Tuesday, University of Technology Sydney senior lecturer Dr Michael Rawling also said that the figures in the Uber-commissioned report don’t match previous research on how much those working in the gig economy are being paid.
“That’s not consistent with the previous research on the matter, which has put the wage rate as low as $6 to $10 per hour. There have been a number of studies that have found that UberEats riders are earning below the minimum wage,” Dr Rawling said.
The Uber report also includes nine “key principles” for the company and governments to follow, including to keep workers safe, protect them from injury while working, and encourage them to voice their concerns.
The report did admit some faults with the company, including around customer support for delivery workers, the dependability of earnings and the firm’s responsiveness to feedback.
The report was unveiled just days before a NSW government taskforce is expected to release its Industry Action Plan in an effort to improve safety in the sector. But the TWU last week withdrew its support for the taskforce, labelling it an attempt to “divert attention away from the global push for regulation”.
The union said the final action plan does not address the root causes of rider deaths and injuries, including the pressure to work long hours and while fatigued.