Vic government wants Canberra to deliver fairness to gig economy workers

The recommendation is one of 20 made by the Victorian government as part of its inquiry into the on-demand workforce.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

The Victorian government wants to get the federal government involved for ensuring existing tests, remedies, and work standards are revised to improve certainty, choice, and conduct for gig economy workers.

It is one of the 20 total recommendations put forward in the report [PDF] for the Victorian government's inquiry into the On-Demand Workforce after it uncovered how platforms have been deliberate in framing their arrangements with workers to avoid complying with workplace laws and paying associated costs. 

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.

"These recommendations will address residual uncertainty around the work status of many workers, including some who are in a vulnerable position in the labour market, and combat the costs of this uncertainty to workers and businesses alike," she said.

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The report highlighted how the federal government, together with state governments and other key stakeholders, should lead the delivery of the recommendations to ensure there is national consistency across the country's workplace systems.

"Reforms confined to a single state risk creating yet more complexity and inconsistency and could impose an unnecessary regulatory burden on national businesses. The Commonwealth is therefore best placed to deliver genuine choice, fairness, and certainty for workers and business," the report said.

"The inquiry suggests it should grasp this opportunity to deliver the recommendations set out in this report and make balanced and fit-for-purpose revisions to the current system."

If the federal government does not act, the report recommended for Victoria to take the lead and collaborate with other states to develop administrative and legislative options that would improve choice, fairness, and certainty for gig economy workers.

The report said these recommendations would help clarify and reduce doubt around work status, which it described as the "root cause" of the current system's failings. Doing so, the report said, would thereby remove uncertainty around how workplace laws, such as the Fair Work Act, apply to gig economy workers.

"The two types of worker may have been quite distinct in the master-servant era from which the 'work status' test emerged. But today, the distinction is not always obvious," the report said.

Additionally, the inquiry noted the recommendations would streamline advice and support to gig economy workers whose work statuses are considered as "borderline", fast track resolution of work status, provide fair conduct for gig economy workers who are not employees, improve remedies for non-employee workers, address gaps in existing approaches, and ensure there is overall greater compliance.

"The gig economy is relied upon by millions of consumers and workers across the country, but there are holes when it comes to industrial relations that put workers' rights to fair pay and conditions at risk," Victorian Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas.

"This report will help plug the gaps that leave workers in these industries exposed and give workers a fair deal."

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The inquiry also highlighted longstanding systemic issues around what is considered as "work status" and the impact it has had on workers and businesses.

The report also seeks to ensure digital platforms take responsibility, recommending that they be transparent with workers, customers, and regulators about their worker contracts.

Other recommendations included developing a code of conduct that better protects on-demand workers; the removal of barriers to collective bargaining; and developing a one-stop shop support agency to help gig economy workers when disputes raise.

Last month, research commissioned by the state government revealed that more than 30% of respondents -- who were gig economy workers -- did not know whether their platform had a dispute resolution process, while nearly half of the surveyed gig economy workers reported that their platform did not provide work-related insurance.

Touted by the Victorian government as the country's "largest-ever study" on the gig economy, the survey of more 14,000 people showed that nearly two-thirds bought goods or services through online marketplaces in the previous 12 months.

The Digital Platform Work in Australia: Prevalence, Nature and Impact report [PDF] also revealed the five most common platforms used by Australians to undertake work have been Airtasker, Uber, Freelancer, Uber Eats, and Deliveroo.

It indicated that 7.1% of survey respondents worked through a digital platform or had done so in the previous 12 months.

The Victorian government plans to open a consultation period with workers and businesses before it responds to the recommendations. No date, however, has been set to finalise it. 

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