The gig economy is expanding and has become part of many people’s daily lives. The gig economy refers to the online platform business that connects consumers with contractors (or workers) to perform tasks (Bajwa et al., 2018). This technological innovation provides a high degree of convenience for businesses and consumers, while the individual rights of gig workers have been ignored. As multiple accidents involving gig workers were gradually reported, their difficult situation began to be exposed to the public.
Accidents of Gig Workers Cause Concern
In July 2023, an Indian gig worker named Akshay Deepak Doultaini died while riding for Uber Eats. According to the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU), Doultaini is the 12th food delivery person to be killed in Australia since 2017 (Feng, 2023). Particularly three weeks after this incident, the 13th food delivery rider to die in Australia was killed in a crash in Campbelltown (Transport Workers’ Union of Australia, 2023).
Labour senator Tony Sheldon made a brief statement in parliament confirming Doultani’s case and stating that:
“As a gig worker, Akshay has no basic employment rights… No minimum wage, no workers’ compensation. A job that forces people to push themselves to the limit to make enough to make ends meet.”(Knaus, 2023).
The factors reported in such incidents are often unsafe working conditions and unhealthy physical and mental states. In addition, victims are usually unable to receive appropriate compensation since such incidents generally do not meet social and company insurance requirements, while gig workers are not covered by legal and regulatory protection for employees (Bajwa et al., 2018).
There is no denying that the gig economy has provided more opportunities with high flexibility and low skill requirements for temporary workers. However, as the gig economy has become a significant part of today’s economic markets and employment patterns, issues such as the lack of protection of employees’ rights and interests should be addressed.
TWU therefore announced workers’ compensation claims on behalf of the families of the dead delivery men. It also called for gig economy workers to receive a minimum wage as well as conditions such as sick leave, vacation, rest, and workers’ compensation. Moreover, workers and TWU have called on the Federal Parliament to urgently implement transport reforms to make workers safer and fairer (Transport Workers’ Union of Australia, 2023).
In response, the federal government claimed it is considering reforms to the gig economy. The proposed changes would set minimum wages and working conditions, and empower the Fair Work Commission to regulate “employee-like workers”. NSW Industrial Relations Minister Sophie Cotsis also said the government was making an election commitment to extend industrial relations protections, including workers’ compensation, to people in the gig economy (Feng, 2023).
Employees or Independent Contractors?
Gig workers are generally not eligible for most employee benefits and labour protections, primarily because most gig economy platforms classify workers as independent contractors. Therefore, whether gig workers should be defined as employees or independent contractors has been an outstanding issue, leading policymakers to struggle with what regulations and laws should be implemented (Hagiu & Wright, 2019).
On the one hand, gig workers are often entirely dependent on the platform for income and their important decisions are largely controlled by the platform. For example, Uber’s driver income is determined by the platform algorithm and cannot be negotiated by drivers or passengers (Halliday, 2021). This means that the status of gig workers and the most available entitlements are defined by digital platforms. Hence gig workers are eager to fight for corresponding social security and legal rights.
On the other hand, digital platforms are different from traditional employers because they offer gig workers autonomy to decide when, what and whom to work (Hagiu & Wright, 2019). In addition, gig workers have the flexibility to take on multiple part-time jobs. They are thus considered by digital platforms as freelance contractors rather than employees.
Here is a video that concludes the blurred line between contractors and employees in Australia:
However, some regulators are concerned that some digital platforms are trying to go both ways: avoid paying payroll taxes and other employment benefits while gaining the benefits of significant control over how their workers serve customers (Hagiu & Wright, 2019). This inevitably prevents gig workers from receiving the rights and interests they deserve. Hence, the process of including gig workers in the scope of legal protection needs to be accelerated.
Growing Workers’ Shelter
In addition to improving laws and regulations, the government can also protect gig workers’ rights in other ways. Melbourne’s Central Business District is piloting a four-month multi-purpose centre scheme designed to support temporary workers in the Micro-Labs building by providing them with a multi-purpose centre for communication and rest (Sambul, 2023).
The Gig Workers’ Hub, a project proposed by architecture PhD student and former gig worker Andrew Copolov, was eventually implemented with the support of the Transport Workers Union, the City of Melbourne, DoorDash, the Test Grounds and the Victorian Government’s temporary worker support service. It was first conducted at the Micro-Labs Community Center in December 2022, and the latest was conducted at the proving ground in the Queen Victoria Market (Harris, 2023).
Mr Copolov explains the idea of building this physically safe space for gig workers:
“It’s an opportunity to charge your internal batteries and your phones. You can access free drinks, free food… I want to provide basic amenities. And in doing so, give gig workers a place where they can meet each other and build some kind of community.”(Razak, 2023).
It provides a safe haven for gig workers in times of extreme weather or fatigue. Gig workers can gain a sense of dignity because their labour and rights are valued (Sambul, 2023).
In addition, the Centre hosts several information sessions on workers’ rights and sick pay, and sick pay is provisionally funded by taxpayers for some Victorian workers (Razak, 2023). This means that a gig workers’s hub can also serve as a convenient place to bring workers and those willing to help them together to communicate. It promotes the unity among gig workers to better accomplish tasks and achieve greater benefits.
Therefore, the hub’s emergence is a win-win for gig workers and the platform. Valuing and supporting gig workers increases their job satisfaction and productivity, which benefits the platform and customer satisfaction. The sustainable development of gig employment and the sharing economy is thus facilitated.
Here are some comments on social media about this project:
These posts show that the Gig Worker’s Hub has public support, as it provides specific benefits to gig workers and mitigates the damage from their lack of legal protection.
Nevertheless, it is worth noting that formal legal and regulatory protections and employee status are also considered more effective measures. Hence, while these innovations are helpful, policies and regulations are the most effective and necessary way to protect the fundamental rights of gig workers.
An increasing number of accidents involving gig workers on the job are being reported, exposing the unsafe working conditions, unhealthy physical and mental states, and unequal treatment they have long suffered. The most significant reason is that they lack policy and legal protection, which is because they are defined by digital platforms as independent contractors, not employees.
With the help of organisations such as the Transport Workers Union, the government and the public are becoming more aware of these issues. The Gig Workers’ Hub program is an effective and innovative way to protect workers’ rights. However, the enactment of laws and regulations remains the most appropriate and effective way to protect the fundamental rights and well-being of gig workers. Overall, the rights and interests of gig workers should and are being valued and supported, which is beneficial for both the gig economy and the sharing economy.
Alberani, D. (2018). Fighting for rights in the gig economy [Image]. Flickr, Bologna. https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidealberani/32290856168/in/photolist-Rcr5xs-5zxyYC
Bajwa, U., Gastaldo, D., Di Ruggiero, E., & Knorr, L. (2018). The health of workers in the global gig economy. Globalization and Health, 14(1), 124-124. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-018-0444-8
Enrich Bookkeeping Solutions. (2020, November 10). When is a Contractor actually an Employee (for Australian employees)? [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/GTaPt4y26dg?si=TALN9fYZXJT3crdg
Feng, L. (2023, August 2). Akshay came to Australia to support his family. He died on the job while delivering food. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-08-02/nsw-delivery-rider-death-akshay-doultani/102675044
Hagiu, A., & Wright, J. (2019). The status of workers and platforms in the sharing economy. Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, 28(1), 97-108. https://doi.org/10.1111/jems.12299
Halliday, D. (2021). On the (mis)classification of paid labor: When should gig workers have employee status? Politics, Philosophy & Economics, 20(3), 229-250. https://doi.org/10.1177/1470594X211015467
Harris, J. (2023, July 20). ‘An architecture of care and solidarity’: Gig Workers’ Hub. ArchitectureAU. https://architectureau.com/articles/an-architecture-of-care-and-solidarity-a-break-room-for-melbournes-gig-workers/
Knaus, C. (2023, July 31). Uber Eats rider killed in Sydney crash identified as Indian scholarship student Akshay Deepak Doultani. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2023/jul/31/uber-eats-delivery-rider-death-dies-sydney-akshay-deepak-doultani
Razak, I. (2023, September 10). Australia’s gig workers face long and dangerous shifts. A Melbourne trial is providing a refuge. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-09-10/delivery-riders-gig-worker-hub-melbourne-refuge/102829374
Sambul, N. (2023, August 13). How Melbourne’s ‘unseen’ workers are being left behind. The Age. https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/how-melbourne-s-unseen-workers-are-being-left-behind-20230810-p5dvm9.html
SBS News. (2023, Oct 2). Australian gig workers have a safe space in Melbourne | SBS News. [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/4B50Nnrtu9w?si=xN_65tAt98_PLIub
Shopblocks. (2017). UBER Eats Delivery Cyclist Riding Through a Busy Oxford Road in Manchester [Image]. Flickr, Manchester. https://www.flickr.com/photos/155237687@N06/34719224782/in/photolist-2iagGyT-2oe7rgf-U2NfiQ-UU26VQ-DrGD7h-Uynozj-A5hZ5G- V9CRoF-2kTrX9L-KjZLkz-2mmAfpX-Sxc8fJ-2mkfW9C-2mk8cKV-2n1ciUi-2mZ9vDq-2nESVYS-2nRiK2J-24pCxtL-2kRDtdu-2jDmpgL-2kNrnwX-vPi Uxi-2mnbNC5-2mmFiG9-2nsyhot-27cCumm-2o5Kwnq-2o4Hraa-25PpXfh-2cKZBPn-2nS8wzh
Transport Workers’ Union of Australia. (2023, August 13). TRANSPORT REFORM UNDENIABLY URGENT AS 13TH FOOD DELIVERY RIDER KILLED: TWU. https://www.twu.com.au/press/transport-reform-undeniably-urgent-as-13th-food-delivery-rider-killed-twu/
Transport Workers’ Union of Australia. (2023, September 6). TWU LAUNCHES WORKERS’ COMPENSATION CLAIMS FOR FAMILIES OF THREE DECEASED FOOD DELIVERY RIDERS. https://www.twu.com.au/press/twu-launches-workers-compensation-claims-for-families-of-three-deceased-food-delivery-riders/
TWU Australia. (2019, June 25). Fight for workers’ rights in the gig economy. [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/lBzZ-nZoiWs?si=2IDlRRmaYfLEHq20