Findings from a landmark inquiry commissioned by the Andrews Victorian government into the work conditions in the “on demand” (gig) economy have been released. The report’s findings are timely with COVID-era unemployment surging and an expanding pool of vulnerable workers relying on “gig” work to meet living costs.
This commentary outlines the key findings of the On-Demand Inquiry.
Victorian Inquiry Offers Novel Routes to Regulating Gig Work
Findings from a landmark inquiry commissioned by the Victorian government into the work conditions in the “on demand” (gig) economy have been released. The Inquiry confirms workplace laws have failed to keep pace with economic change.
Release of the report’s findings are timely with COVID-era unemployment surging and an expanding pool of vulnerable workers relying on “gig” work to meet living costs. How do platform “digital sweatshops” work?
Platform business models recruit workers without access to secure and better compensated jobs (especially migrant and young workers). Jobs performed are often menial and without adequate safety protections. Gig workers lack stable work schedules or incomes, and receive wages that often fall well-below social norms and legal minimums.
The major recommendations by the Inquiry chaired by former Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James include:
- A more systematic application of the “work test” currently used to classify workers as employees or independent contractors by codifying the test in the Fair Work Act (rather than common law). This would create a nationally coherent framework for extending protections including minimum pay and conditions to gig workers genuinely working for another’s business.
- Alter competition laws and establish a new industry Award to enable gig workers to bargain collectively with platforms.
- Strengthen the gig work regulatory regime through industry codes of conduct between platforms, governments and unions for non-employee gig workers, overseen by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and allow an independent tribunal to oversee work status determinations.
We commend the Inquiry on the ambitious scale of the investigation, and the innovative pathway proposed for gig work regulation.
Three Centre for Future Work reports on gig work in Australia were cited in the final report. Research by Director Jim Stanford (with Andrew Stewart from University of Adelaide) featured in the report’s major recommendation that collective bargaining rights be extended to gig workers to lift pay and conditions of gig work.
Read our full submission to the Inquiry — Turning Gigs Into Decent Jobs — by Jim Stanford and Alison Pennington.
The Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has described proposed new laws to regulate digital platform work as building a ramp with employees at the top, independent contractors at the bottom, and gig platform workers halfway up. The new laws will allow the Fair Work Commission to set minimum standards for ‘employee-like workers’ on digital platforms.
New research reveals the growth of ‘gig’ employment in the NDIS and care sector is undermining minimum employment conditions for tens of thousands of workers, with thousands of workers likely earning below-award wages, missing out on superannuation and experiencing inferior WHS protections and gender pay equality outcomes.
The surprising thing about the Albanese government’s announced reforms to “casual” employment is not that they’re happening.
Chris Wright is Associate Professor in the Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies at the University of Sydney, and a member of the Centre for Future Work’s Advisory Committee. This commentary is based on his submission to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee’s inquiry into the Fair Work Legislation Amendment (Closing Loopholes) Bill 2023,
In recent years, workers have been held back from demanding better working conditions and pay by a lack of bargaining power.
An urgent overhaul of poorly paid and casualised disability support work is needed to ensure the National Disability Insurance Scheme’s viability and protect participants from substandard care, a new report by the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work says.