Uber Australia has entered into a landmark agreement with the Transport Workers’ Union – a statement of principles that re-regulate work in the Australian rideshare and food delivery industry.
This is a major shift towards industrial relations in the gig economy.
Uber and its rival platforms largely treat their workforces as independent contractors, not employees with the right to benefits such as sick leave, minimum wage or union representation.
Now the poster company of the gig economy has agreed with the union that those working on the platform should meet certain basic conditions.
What Uber and the Transportation Workers Union agree on
First, and most importantly, Uber and the transport workers union agreed to support the creation of an independent umpire, potentially as part of the Fair Work Commission, to enforce minimum standards and practices in the industry Huh.
There are four main objectives.
First, an enforceable floor around earnings, to give transparency to drivers and ensure that platforms don’t try to compete by reducing labor costs. Earnings are a serious concern for gig workers.
Second, increased and lower-cost opportunities for workers to resolve disputes through an independent umpire. Gig workers as contractors currently have little recourse to address complaints.
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Third, the right of workers to be collectively organized and represented by a union.
Fourth, effective enforcement of these and other standards, including occupational health and safety compliance.
Beyond these key principles, Uber and the Transportation Workers’ Union have also agreed to have an ongoing conversation about how to make these principles work in reality, and not just on paper.
The principle of the Uber-Transport Workers Union follows the union that signed a similar joint charter with DoorDash in May.
Given that DoorDash has been operating in Australia since 2019, and Uber since 2012, why are they now making these voluntary agreements to advance better working conditions?
The answer seems reasonably clear: the Morrison government, which had little enthusiasm for regulating the gig economy, has been replaced by the Albany government, which has indicated it will.
The new Labor government’s plans for the gig economy and employee-like work arrangements include giving the Fair Work Commission the power to regulate “employee-like” forms of work.
The exact details and timeline of these reforms have not been announced.
These union-platform agreements show that platforms are willing to be at the fore and potentially shape this regulation agenda.
no more debate classification
Crucially, unions and platforms working together could mean the end of the classification debate – employee versus independent contractor – that has been fought over the past five years by the Fair Work Commission and in the courts.
As we have suggested previously, the debate over whether workers who should be treated as independent contractors should in fact be classified as employees, has been largely a dead end. They may even have harmed employees, as the platform has tried to avoid doing anything that the Fair Work Commission or court might interpret as indicative of an employer-employee relationship.
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This compromise represents a different approach that may yield better results. This should help the platforms avoid ongoing litigation costs and reputational damage. This also helps the union. Recent High Court rulings have made it difficult for unions to recruit, organize and represent gig workers. This agreement implicitly acknowledges the right of the union to represent those workers.
setting the agenda
These statements of principles also align strongly with the Albany government’s proposal to improve the conditions for “employee-like work”.
Uber and Doordarshan seem to be embracing self-regulation to help set the agenda around what is (and importantly what isn’t) in the new rules for employee-like work arrangements.
The future of gig work is looking a lot different than it did a few months ago.