Call for federal regulator for Australia’s gig economy after sixth delivery rider death revealed
A Senate inquiry has recommended the creation of a federal regulator for the gig economy as yet another death of a food delivery rider was revealed on Friday.
The inquiry has also recommended that the definition of “employee” should be expanded to include gig workers, and a low-cost tribunal should be created so poorly paid contractors could bring their cases before it.
The Senate’s select committee on job security issued its interim report on Thursday and made wide-ranging recommendations.
These also included that Safe Work Australia enhance its data collection of gig worker accidents and fatalities, and that the federal regulator should have the power to request data from companies such as Uber about its pay rates and hours worked by its contractors.
Food deliverers for companies such as UberEats and Deliveroo, and rideshare drivers for companies such as Uber, are not considered employees under Australian employment law. They are classed as independent contractors, meaning they are not entitled to a minimum wage, annual or sick leave, and some forms of compensation if they are hurt or killed while working.
Last year five food delivery riders died in Australia within two months, and a seperate New South Wales inquiry into the gig economy heard that riders made as little as $8 a trip, were being rushed to complete orders, and had their pay cut during the pandemic.
On Friday an ABC radio investigation revealed that another food delivery rider had been killed in 2020 but the death had not been reported at the time.
Burak Doğan, a 30-year-old student from Turkey, was hit and killed on 2 April 2020 in Sydney. According to the ABC’s Background Briefing program, his death was not reported as a workplace fatality because his last trip was cancelled 25 minutes before he was killed.
Doğan was still logged into the UberEats app when he was killed, the ABC reported. A review by SafeWork NSW said it was “unclear” whether he was working at the time.
Five other food delivery riders died in the second half of 2020: one death every 11 days between 27 September and 27 November.
On Friday the chair of the Senate committee, Labor’s Tony Sheldon, said the recommendations would have made delivery work safer and prevented deaths.
“If this legislation had been put in place prior to this, then [Doğan’s] death is very likely to not have happened,” he told Guardian Australia.
The committee’s recommendations would grant more rights to food deliverers, he said.
Independent contractors are not automatically covered by the same workplace compensation laws as employees, and the families of previous riders who had died told Guardian Australia they were facing financial ruin.
Doğan’s family told the ABC Uber had not paid them any compensation because the company’s private insurance policy only covers the time during a delivery, and 15 minutes after it is completed or cancelled. Doğan died 25 minutes after his trip was cancelled.
“Those families would not be destitute now if they had labour rights and workers’ compensation,” Sheldon said. “Labour rights mean you can still be a contractor and you can still have the right to a minimum wage.”
Recently food delivery company Menulog said it would abandon the independent contractor model and trial making “hundreds of workers” employees entitled to award wages and other protections.
“Companies like Menulog have said this is a better way to go,” Sheldon said. “The previous industrial relations minister, Christian Porter, said it was too complicated. Uber is the second largest number of workers in this country … and they have no minimum rights, no right to appeal dismissal, and arbitrary pay decisions. That’s not Australia.”
NSW Labor MP Daniel Mookhey, who chairs the NSW inquiry into the gig economy, welcomed the recommendations.
“This report makes clear the state has a role to play in modernising work health and safety laws as well as our workers compensation scheme … NSW has a lion’s share of delivery riders on our roads,” he said.
Mookhey and the Transport Workers’ Union want SafeWork to reassess Doğan’s death.
“How can any rider have confidence they are safe on our roads if SafeWork is unsure on what constitutes a workplace death?” Mookhey said. “Unfortunately it has taken another death to demonstrate the dire need for regulation. More deaths will occur without the government taking urgent action.”
Thursday’s interim report contained a dissenting report by Liberal and National senators on the committee. It said the process leading to the recommendations “has been a political farce” and was “a blatant attempt by Labor and Greens senators to discredit the success of the Morrison government’s broad management of workplace relations and to campaign for big government control of Australians in the workplace”.
Nationals senator Matthew Canavan and Liberal senator Ben Small wrote the report and said the recommendation of a national tribunal was “deeply reminiscent of the now thoroughly discredited road safety remuneration tribunal” and said the recommendation for a national portable leave scheme “would be a tax on jobs that would expand the rorting seen in state-based schemes to an unimaginable extent”.
Sheldon said the report showed Coalition was opposed to regulating the gig economy.
“To have the minority dissenting report from their senators, the National and Liberal parties are turning around and saying these workers don’t deserve the minimum wage,” he said. “It turns the clock back for every hardworking Australian … to the 1800s. That is actually what these laws do, by not giving them minimum rights.”