As the ‘gig economy’ continues to grow, a Senate inquiry has called on the Australian Government to legislate the health and safety rights for non-employees and workers who perform non-standard work.
The Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers have released a 165-page report where-in they claim workplace laws have not kept pace with rapid technological change. The committee found popular business models within the gig economy are taking advantage of legislative shortcomings to avoid the responsibilities traditionally associated with being an employer. These include both workers’ compensation and workplace health and safety entitlements.
“The committee makes the perhaps obvious, but nonetheless necessary, observation that some employers will not protect workers and provide decent incomes by choice, because reducing staffing costs increases profits,” the report says.
“Many will feel compelled to adhere to, or certainly not stray far above, minimum legislated requirements. It is therefore incumbent on policymakers to ensure that regulations are in place guaranteeing a fair income, decent conditions and protections and effective dispute resolution for all workers.”
The concept behind the gig economy is for third-party websites to pair workers with individual, fragmented, tasks. And the industry continues to grow – it’s believed that the NSW gig economy alone provides up to 45,000 people annually with some form of work, and contributes $504 million to the state budget each year. These workers are governed by commercial contracts and laws that don’t stipulate many entitlements founds in an employee contract.
The inquiry makes 24 recommendations to tackle emerging problems – including an Australia-wide crackdown on employment arrangements that wrongly classify dependent workers as independent contractors.
“There is a very simple test to be applied here: if a company makes money directly as a result of workers’ labour, and if workers are dependent on the company for work and income, then those workers are employees of that company,” the committee says.
“The committee therefore joins calls for a firm and swift regulatory response which will broaden the definition of employee to capture gig workers and ensure that they have full access to protection under Australia’s industrial relations system.”
In a statement, the Australian Council of Trade Unions echoed the findings of the inquiry, and urged the federal government to act on all of the committee’s recommendations, saying they were an important first step to ensuring businesses couldn’t sidestep their workers’ compensation and WHS responsibilities.
“Whether it’s digital gig platforms, sham contracting, outsourcing, labour hire or the use of subsidiaries and franchises that stand between workers and stronger rights, our laws needs to catch up and close down these avoidance techniques.”