- by Marcus Browning
- The Guardian
- Issue #2069
Photo: Unions NSW
What would you think about someone who is continually attempting to rob you and your family of the right to a decent living? Someone who was intent on taking food from the mouths of your children and was on a mission to make sure that the future they have is a grim one? You would inevitably hold them in the contempt that they deserve.
Last week we had the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Australian Industry Group, and the Minerals Council – the representatives of the country’s most bloated parasites – in sync on a mission to make your life harder and more uncertain for working people while making it easier for the bosses to make more profits.
Employers oppose any move to increase pay and improve conditions, no less so in the gig economy, including opposition to the Albanese government’s push to give the Fair Work Commission the means to set minimum pay and conditions for gig workers on digital platforms. Action by the union movement to bring about real changes will be needed.
A major survey conducted by McKell, the Transport Workers’ Union, and TEACHO sheds light on the harsh reality faced by food delivery, rideshare, and AmazonFlex drivers. The survey, which included over 1,000 transport gig workers, reveals that the notion of ‘flexibility’ is merely an illusion. The key findings of the survey show low pay, job insecurity, and the absence of fair, safe and sustainable standards, highlighting the urgent need for transport reform.
The survey uncovered a shocking truth:
81 per cent of respondents depend on gig work as their primary source of income, but are overwhelmingly struggling to make ends meet. Astonishingly, the more hours they work, the lower their hourly pay becomes.
Approximately 66 per cent of full-time workers and at least 45 per cent of all workers earn less than the minimum wage, potentially affecting over 100,000 gig workers in Australia. This alarming trend amounts to the equivalent of ongoing wage theft and undermines the livelihoods of hardworking individuals.
Deadly pressure is affecting gig workers.
More than half of the respondents experience work-related stress, anxiety, and mental health issues.
56 per cent of food delivery riders said they’re pressured to rush and take risks on the road to earn enough money and avoid deactivation for being deemed too slow by the digital algorithm.
While flexibility is often cited as a major benefit of gig work, the survey revealed a different reality.
54 per cent of respondents prioritise fair pay and safe working conditions over flexible hours.
About 41 per cent of workers are forced to work over 40 hours a week, and 69 per cent feel compelled to work during peak hours to earn a sufficient income.
As a gig worker summed it up: “I work 7 days a week and often above 70-80 hours a week, and I barely make enough money to live.”
NEED FOR REFORM
The survey results speak loud and clear, with 95 per cent of workers expressing support for regulation and the establishment of standards for transport gig work. Urgent transport reform is needed to ensure fair pay, safe working conditions, and improved job security for transport gig workers.
In 2019 the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) called on the then federal Coalition government to enact urgent legislation to ensure workers in the gig economy are given rights and protections against exploitation.
The move came as a new survey showed transport and delivery workers in the gig economy are paid less, work more hours unpaid, and are less satisfied than other workers.
At the time TWU National Secretary Michael Kaino said: “In 2018 we had a landmark victory when a Foodora rider won an unfair dismissal case and we know the same control factors are in play for workers in Uber and right across the gig economy. If this is what our laws are guiding regulators to do then these laws are hopelessly broken and the government must act urgently to put in place rights that protect all workers.”
The evidence shows that Uber workers are being abused: the pay is well below minimum rates, there is no right to negotiate the continual decreasing rates, there is little support when drivers are forced to take time off if they are sick or injured and superannuation is non-existent.
The Rideshare Drivers Co-operative stated: “Uber continually sends us messages on how we must behave and carry out our jobs. Work is also preferentially allocated based on our ratings and availability for work. If we take time off when sick, we notice a drop off in work allocated to us. Uber informs us through the app what our cancellation and acceptance rate is. They are absolutely controlling how we do our jobs. We believe we deserve rights and protections while we do these jobs.”
A major survey by Queensland University of Technology, the University of Adelaide, and University of Technology Sydney for the Victorian government revealed transport workers in the gig economy are more likely to be dependent on the income from gig work and to do the job with greater frequency than other workers.
The biggest category for gig economy work was transport at almost 19 per cent. The report states transport workers are “over-represented” in lower income bands of $15-$20 and $20-$30 per hour, before taxes and costs. Transport workers spent a weekly average of 5.2 hours working unpaid.
Transport workers, along with workers with a disability and unemployed people, were among the 15.4 per cent of respondents working in the gig economy who were most likely to say the income they earned was essential for meeting basic needs.
A separate survey by the TWU and Rideshare Drivers’ Cooperative of over 1100 rideshare drivers in Australia last October showed the average pay is just $16 per hour before fuel, insurance, and other costs are taken out. One in 10 drivers have been physically assaulted, while 6 per cent have been sexually assaulted.
Workers responding to the survey said they faced death threats from passengers towards them and their families, rape threats, sexual assault, being punched in the face, held at knifepoint, had their car windows broken, their cars stolen, and have received racial abuse. Almost two-thirds of drivers have had false reports by passengers.
A TWU survey of food delivery riders in Australia shows three out of every four are paid below minimum rates. Almost 50 per cent of riders had either been injured on the job or knew someone who had. At least 13 riders have been killed while working.
The ACTU notes that there is currently no system in Australia to provide transport gig workers with rights like minimum wage, sick leave, workers’ compensation or protection from unfair contract terminations, which add pressure to rush and work unsafely just to make a living.
UberEats has previously attempted to deny workplace deaths occurred and therefore didn’t report them. In 2021, UberEats claimed food delivery rider Burak Dogan wasn’t working for them when he went under a truck in April 2020, despite his phone receiving job requests from Uber Eats at the exact time of his death, and afterwards as he lay dead on the road.
Gig work by its very nature is insecure, which makes it harder for workers to point out safety concerns without the risk of losing their job. Often their only form of contact with the company is via apps and chatbots.
The precarious nature of the work means they are forced to take risks just to bring in a pay cheque. These workers deserve so much more. Working no matter what the weather or time to bring us convenience comes with a cost; employers are passing risks onto individuals in the pursuit of corporate profits.
The ACTU pointed out that flexibility may be desired by workers, but it is far from reality. The unchecked transport gig economy puts workers’ lives at risk just to earn enough money. No worker’s life should be expendable.
Gig workers lose $400 million a year in potential superannuation because they are not entitled to the superannuation guarantee that employees are, according to Industry Super Australia. This means that someone who works for just five years as a gig economy worker would have $28,700 less at retirement than if they were engaged as an employee.
Unfair commercial pressures in road transport, facilitated by engaging drivers under different work arrangements are leading to deaths on the road, low pay, and poor working conditions.