Fair Work Commission kicks off Foodora unfair dismissal hearing

Foodora is facing claims of unfair dismissal in front of Australia's Fair Work Commission this week ahead of a Federal Court case dealing with its alleged underpayment of workers.

Australia's Fair Work Commission has kicked off an unfair dismissal hearing about online food delivery service Foodora's local operations, with a delivery rider providing testimony on allegedly being sacked after complaining about a lack of workers' rights.

"I first joined Foodora two years ago in the beginning of March 2016 ... there was word of getting workers compensation if we were injured on the job, but I soon found out when other riders were injured that they didn't have that," former Foodora delivery rider Josh Klooger told media on Tuesday.

He added that he had seen Foodora wages halve over the last two years.

"We weren't getting super, we weren't getting sick leave. Something needed to change, so I decided to speak up about it, and I've lost my job about speaking up about it."

According to Transport Workers Union of Australia (TWU) secretary Tony Sheldon, the rise of the so-called gig economy has led to "old-fashioned exploitation" akin to workers' conditions seen in the 1800s.

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"The difference now is that change is coming via apps and by tech billionaires," Sheldon argued.

According to Sheldon, the Victorian government is set to introduce reforms to the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Act that will extend workers' rights to online delivery drivers and riders.

"The rules clearly need to be changed, but the federal government does not have the political will to do so. This is the technological future the federal government is mandating for our kids," Sheldon added.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) had commenced legal proceedings against Foodora last month, alleging the company had engaged in "sham contracting" resulting in the underpayment of workers.

A case management hearing is scheduled to take place in the Australian Federal Court on July 10, and deals with three workers who were contracted by Foodora Australia. The company could face penalties of AU$54,000 per contravention if it is found to have breached the Fair Work Act.

The FWO has claimed that Foodora misrepresented to the three workers that they were independent contractors -- requiring them to have an Australian Business Number (ABN) and sign an Independent Contractor Agreement -- when they were in fact employees.

"The Fair Work Ombudsman alleges that the workers were lawfully entitled to receive the minimum wage rates and entitlements that applied to their positions under the Fast Food Industry Award 2010; and that the amounts Foodora paid them were not sufficient to meet those rates and entitlements," the FWO said in a statement.

"As a result of its investigation, the Fair Work Ombudsman allegedly found that the employees had been underpaid their minimum lawful wage rates, casual loading, and penalty rates for night, weekend, and public holiday work."

According to the FWO, the three employees suffered a loss of AU$1,620.74 over a four-week period, with Foodora also failing to make any superannuation contributions. Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James is therefore seeking a court order for the company to backpay these wages and make superannuation contributions.

"Courts have found again and again that merely labelling the relationship to be one of independent contracting does not make it so, and it is the substance of the relationship that decides the status of the workers and the regulatory requirements that flow," James said.

"The only way to answer the question of whether the workers delivering the meals are employees or 'independent contractors' is for someone to ask a court to consider the specific 'relationships' between a company and its workers."

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