CommentOpinion

Gig economy based on sham contracting

Josh Klooger was sacked earlier this year for talking to his colleagues about his pay. The 26-year-old Sydneysider had been delivering food by bike for the Berlin-based food delivery tech company Foodora for two years. And as a passionate cyclist, he considered riding up to 450km a week a dream job.

But the dream turned sour.

Initially, the job was good. He was earning an hourly rate, with extra for deliveries. But without warning, the company changed the conditions, removing the hourly rate and dropping his pay to as little as $7 an hour.

Klooger had no access to basic rights, and tragically, his situation is becoming the norm.

Bicycle delivery drivers from UberEats, Deliveroo and Foodora – some paid as little as $6 an hour – rallied in Sydney last week under the Rights4Riders banner, calling for better conditions and government regulation.

With the Transport Workers Union, Klooger and another Foodora worker, Avi Winner, have launched an unfair dismissal claim that could be a test case for the low pay piece of the business model of the booming food delivery industry. They will argue that these workers are employees, not contractors.

This is the so-called “gig economy”, and it’s rapidly expanding. Sites like Airtasker now offer jobs to people that can be dangerous or underpaid. We’re not talking isolated incidents – this is their business model.

Companies game the system, calling workers “contractors” to deny them basic rights like minimum wages, sick leave, public holidays, health and safety protections, superannuation, and workers compensation.

The gig economy is based on sham contracting. It’s not a fair contract. The workers have no power. They are barely treated like people, instead like widgets for a powerful, big business, who compete to drive down wages and conditions.

It’s got to stop, and it can. But only if we change the rules. The rules need to be changed so all workers have the same basic rights. Rights like sick leave, minimum wages, health and safety precautions and public holidays.

Over generations working people have made sacrifices and fought for these rights. They weren’t simply handed to us by benevolent bosses or gratuitous government.

We know the government will stand in our way. We know that they will side with the big businesses gaming the system. We’ve seen it with wage theft, where workers are unable to stop big businesses ripping off their pay packets, driving down wages across the economy.

We know that the government will protect companies pushing more Australians into insecure work. And we know the government will oppose our attempts to get people like Josh a pay rise.

That’s why at the National Press Club I outlined our full plan to change the rules for working people. In the speech, I detailed a package of measures to create more secure jobs, and help Australians get a wage rise.

An increase in the minimum wage to keep working people out of poverty, to give working people the right to bargain fairly, to reinstate penalty rates, and to get rid of the complex laws which allow employers to game the system.

It’s an ambitious, comprehensive package. We will have to fight for it. But when working people stand together, we are mighty and unbreakable.

Working people must have hope. They must remember that the rules were created by people, and that they can be changed by people.

We want to work with all parties to change the rules, so working people have a fair go again, so they can stand together and demand that things improve – so that we can protect what over a century of struggle has achieved.

So workers like Josh can be supported to join their union and have voice about issues that impact them.

Josh dreams of one day owning a house. Unless we change the rules, this dream will disappear for a generation of Australian workers.

Sally McManus is Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

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