Workplace Law Reform Must Limit Cancer of ‘Gig Work’ in Care Economy: Research

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.

Researchers have recommended limits are placed on the growth of gig work in the NDIS as part of the third tranche of the Commonwealth Government’s industrial relations reforms later for later this year. Researchers say the promised reforms to ‘Employee-like’ forms of work should be used to protect minimum employment standards and quality service delivery for care workers and consumers.

Key findings

  • The gig work model is growing in the care economy and NDIS, undermining wages, conditions and gender pay equality
  • Care workers on platforms are younger, less experienced and more likely to be migrant workers than workers in the broader care and support workforce.
  • Platform care work is insecure on-demand work, working time is fragmented, pay can be unpredictable. Many workers’ earnings are equivalent to below award-level pay.
  • Worker-friendly flexibility is limited and is mainly only possible in short hours jobs. Flexibility comes at the expense of a living wage.
  • Care and support platform workers are isolated and largely invisible, working in private homes without organisational supervision, support, guidance or training.
  • In platform and other independent contracting arrangements, risks and responsibilities for care quality and client safety are devolved to individual workers.
  • Platforms compete by avoiding the costs and risks of business fluctuations, of employing workers and of accountability for care and support quality and safety. Costs and risks are devolved to low-paid and insecure frontline workers.
  • Platforms profit from retaining funds that are allocated for employong workers and providing training and supervision.

“Unregulated gig work is a cancer for workers rights in Australia,” said Dr Fiona Macdonald, Policy Director, at the Australia Institute’s Centre for Future Work.

“The growth of gig work on digital platforms in the care economy eats away at minimum employment conditions and shifts risk on to care consumers and staff.

“Care is a public good. Stopping the gigification of disability and aged care workforces is necessary to prevent public funding allocations for essential workers’ wages, superannuation, training and supervision from being diverted to profits.

“Sector-specific reforms are currently being considered for the road transport industry. Yet, in the public care and support sectors, the same concerns—safety, sustainability and viability—are being approached through disconnected policy processes, rather than being addressed head on.

“The Women’s Budget Statement reiterated the Government’s commitment to ‘a sustainable and productive care and support economy that delivers quality care and decent jobs’. Gig care work should be addressed with a view to gender equality.

“We are seeing the Gigification of care work and, without protections, we will risk seeing this spread to other sectors of the labour market.”

Recommended policy responses:

  • The Government has committed to reforms to ‘Employee-like’ forms of work in 2023
  • These reforms must be designed to restore full employment rights and benefits to all care and support workers, including minimum wages, super & WHS
  • Comprehensive employment minimum standards should apply for all care and support workers, regardless of employment status
    Digital platforms in the care sector should be bound by mandatory codes of conduct

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