Food delivery deaths spark NSW government to set up investigation taskforce

The taskforce will examine whether recent fatalities could have been avoided and if improvements need to be made to enhance the safety of gig economy workers.

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Image: Deliveroo

The recent fatalities of food delivery riders have prompted the NSW government to set up a taskforce to investigate whether improvements need to be made to enhance the safety of gig economy workers.

To be led by SafeWork NSW and Transport for NSW, the taskforce will examine whether any avoidable risks may have contributed to the death of recent food delivery riders. It will also explore any similarities between the recent fatalities.

"We have moved to set up this joint taskforce, that will see SafeWork investigate each incident and make findings for any immediate improvements or compliance activity that can be implemented to better protect these workers," Minister for Better Regulation Kevin Anderson said.

"The taskforce will assess the safety measures currently implemented by each food delivery operator and advise on any improvements needed to prevent further incidents."

Five delivery riders have died nationally in the past three months, four of them in Sydney, including one on Monday evening after being struck by a truck and another who was hit by a car on Saturday.

Minister for Transport and Roads Andrew Constance said more needed to be done to avoid any further tragedies.

"The deaths of these delivery riders are absolutely tragic and if action needs to be taken we will do that," he said.

Anderson said the findings of the taskforce would be used to inform existing research being carried out by the NSW government's Centre for Work Health and Safety into the gig economy. The investigation is also examining if there are potential regulatory reforms that could be made to improve safety for gig economy workers.

"It has taken four rider deaths in Sydney for the NSW Government to set up a taskforce. The state government needs to get on with this taskforce and ensure workers are central to it," The Transport Workers' Union (TWU) national secretary Michael Kaine said.

It is, however, unclear when the taskforce will report back on its investigation.

Read also: Victorian government gig economy survey shows workers missing out on insurance

The TWU has called on the federal government to intervene as it believes an investigation into Uber and other food delivery companies is necessary.

"Food delivery riders are literally dying because of the Federal Government's inaction. … the law has not kept up and is failing to protect workers. It is no longer an option for the federal government and the states to pass the buck between them, we need action now," Kaine said.

"As a matter of urgency, we want the federal government to investigate the safety measures Uber and other companies have in place for their riders and whether they meet workplace standards.

"But the federal government now must begin looking at regulating these companies and putting in place an independent tribunal which workers can turn to for the rights and protections they need."

Similar remarks were made by the Victorian government earlier this year when it put forward 20 recommendations as part of its inquiry into the On-Demand Workforce.

It said involving the federal government would ensure existing tests, remedies, and work standards could be revised to improve certainty, choice, and conduct for gig economy workers.

The inquiry was launched back in September 2018 to specifically examine the treatment of workers and how they are remunerated. It was chaired by former Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James.

If the federal government does not act, the report recommended that Victoria take the lead by collaborating with other states to develop administrative and legislative options focused on improving choice, fairness, and certainty for gig economy workers.

The inquiry also uncovered how platforms have been deliberate in framing their arrangements with workers to avoid complying with workplace laws and paying associated costs.

NSW Transport turns to industry to help revitalise Sydney CBD

In other transport news, Transport for NSW is turning to startups and industry for help on how technology could play a role to get people back into Sydney central business district.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, the number of people travelling into the Sydney CBD has reduced significantly. The state government said as of August 2020, there were almost 50% fewer people working in the CBD than in January 2020, while public transport passengers were down 20% during the initial lockdown in March.

"The impact COVID-19 has had on businesses in the city has been substantial, with workers staying home and a loss of tourists and international students," Transport for NSW Deputy Secretary Customer Strategy and Technology Joost de Kock said.

"Through this challenge, we're looking to revitalise the City of Sydney encouraging people to travel in a COVID Safe manner to boost the economy and support businesses as they rebuild."

See more: NSW Transport sharing passenger occupancy alerts on Opal Travel app

As part of what has been dubbed as the City Revitalisation Innovation Challenge, Transport for NSW is offering those with a viable solution equity-free seed funding to develop those ideas. It is also offering access to Transport for NSW's network of industry partners, executives, and subject matter experts along with a potential customer beyond seed funding.

The challenge will be open to respondents in two stages. The first will commence in December/January and is aimed at creating a "COVIDSafe summer" and the other will kick off in February/March for projects that "might need coordination among government agencies and stakeholders or more detailed codesign".

As examples of potential starting points, Transport for NSW highlighted solutions that could include using real-time capacity data to encourage people to adhere to social distancing rules or tracking real-time capacity of venues and destinations to support customer planning.

"We want to see ideas that could measurably increase visitation and economic activity in the Sydney CBD … our preference is that you come to us with data and a way to make a solution usable for customer," the challenge stated. 

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