Preserving flexibility is key in gig economy

Gig work is valued by consumers, employers and workers across Australia. The numbers tell the story: More than eight million consumers use Uber services, from food delivery to transport and 50,000 Australian restaurants and retailers are partnered with the Uber Eats platform. Now more than 150,000 Australian Uber drivers are waiting for the government’s final word on gig-work reforms. With knock-on effects likely to ripple through the Australian economy, the expected regulatory changes are likely to affect the pattern of gig work.

Nine in ten Uber drivers and delivery partners are clear on one thing: they don’t want restrictions on their flexible work choices.

Yes, they’d like basic employee benefits, such as a transparent minimum earnings rate, but most see themselves as part-time gig drivers, picking up work when they need a little extra cash. For them, flexibility is key. Many would likely give it all away if restrictions became too onerous, hollowing out a lucrative form of casual employment: last year Uber drivers earned more than $8.3 billion – mostly as a sideline to their usual work.

Australia’s gig economy reforms follow a 2022 election commitment to lift basic protections for gig-workers – Australians who are paid for “employee-type work”. The federal government is expected to hand down its final decisions on gig work later this year.

There’s a lot at stake: 8.3 per cent of the Australian workforce or 1.1 million workers earned money in the gig economy last year, from ride-share and food delivery drivers to casual workers in the aged-care industry to on-demand builders’ labourers. Not salaried, gig-workers are paid by the shift, by the hour, by the job.

“The gig economy has created new opportunities for many Australians, and we see this legislation as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create modern laws for modern work,” says Bec Nyst, general manager at Uber Eats ANZ. “All gig workers deserve improved standards and minimum protections, while retaining access to the hallmark flexibility and independence that gig work offers.”

Uber, along with other tech platforms and a range of business organisations including the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group have called for sensible reform which protects the gig-workers’ unique way of working while layering in additional protections.

It’s vital that legislative reform is done right, Nyst says, especially now, when the cost of living is on the way up and the chance to a earn a little more is valued by so many workers.

Inadequate reforms which fail to reflect the reality of modern gig work could have far-reaching consequences, she warns, and could significantly affect businesses which use digital platforms to reach new customers and grow, as well as eroding a type of work popular with many Australians and undermining a type of transport and food delivery many consumers prefer.

“Consumers could see an impact to the reliability, cost and availability of services they have come to use every day, not to mention independent retailers and restaurants who rely on food delivery platforms as an important revenue stream,” Nyst says.

Uber gig-workers know what they want. More than 1200 Uber drivers and delivery partners were surveyed by IPSOS last year. Nine in ten said they would give up the work if the flexibility wasn’t there, and nine in ten wanted any new legislation to protect their work flexibility.

Two-thirds preferred to be independent contractors rather than employees and eight in ten would like some employee-type benefits as long as they could keep their flexible work schedules.

“If flexibility is lost, platforms like ours will have to make significant changes that could result in fewer jobs,” Nyst points out. “Gig workers could ultimately be subject to set shifts and earning caps, which run counter to the independence and dynamic earnings opportunity workers love.”

Uber wants legislative reform that will provide drivers and delivery partners with extra benefits without cutting into the work flexibility they prefer, she adds. “By providing gig-workers with a clear set of minimum standards, such as a minimum earnings rate and platform-funded compulsory personal accident insurance, we can create a more stable and secure workforce.”

Australians are drawn to the idea of running their own working day in their own cars, earning money when they need to and knocking off when they want to. They like to work around their own timetables, fitting in those important kid and life dates and turning their minds to earning when they choose to, rather than when they’re told to.

“We are seeing strong growth in people signing up to be Uber drivers and delivery people, particularly as people look for a second income stream to bolster their budgets,” Nyst says. “Gig workers provide important services such as food delivery, ridesharing, and pick and pay. We are advocating for a universal safety net across platforms – so that no matter where gig workers find platform work, they can expect a consistent experience and an established set of standards.”

Uber has worked with the federal Department of Employment and Workplace Relations during its gig-work consultation, as well as providing a paper outlining Uber’s support for four standards:

  1. A transparent minimum earnings rate that ensures gig workers never earn below a set amount while on a job. Dynamic earning opportunities would remain intact so workers could earn above the minimum rate, depending on time of day and location.
  1. Platform-funded compulsory personal accident insurance which provides coverage in the event of a work accident and a minimum level of coverage for all gig workers.
  2. A consistent set of standards across platforms concerning loss of platform access, including a mechanism to give gig workers the right to appeal decisions that permanently remove their access to a platform.
  3. The right to receive a Gig Contractor Information Statement from a platform, with information about the contractor’s worker status, the safety net and their rights in terms of dispute resolution; along with a monthly earnings statement.

Uber’s proposals build on a statement of principles the platform has signed with the Transport Workers’ Union, which both provides a benefits’ safety net and protects gig-workers’ much-valued flexible working patterns.

“We have worked with other online food delivery platforms to form a shared view on key aspects of the reforms,” Nyst says. “We believe reform must occur at a national government level, it must be fit-for-purpose, and it must preserve flexibility.”

The Australian