The 'Gig' Economy

The SDA is very concerned about protecting rights of workers in what is called the gig economy, which includes Uber, Deliveroo and Foodora. Our global union, Union Network International (UNI), reports on a very important case affecting Uber in the UK. 

On October 28 2016, a Central London Employment Tribunal case ruled that Uber drivers are employees and not self-contracted workers.

As Christina Colclough, UNI Global Union’s Senior Advisor on the future world of work, explained to the media house Politico Europe in an interview, this ruling is a significant, much needed step along the way to stop the exploitation of workers:

“Workers who are classified as self-employed have few, if any, social protection rights. This means that in most countries they have no holiday pay, sickness pay, education and training allowance, maternity/paternity leave rights and so forth.

“In addition, since these workers are classified as single-unit companies, competition law prevents them from allowing a union to collectively bargain for them.

“The landmark ruling in London determines what UNI has urged policymakers to do for quite some time now. Namely, grant all workers, in all forms of employment the same social and fundamental rights.

“We need, deserve and demand decent jobs and fair conditions, and for this the world needs unions.”

Platforms such as Uber, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Deliveroo, and many others, have utilised a regulatory gap that has permitted them to sweep in profits through their out-of-the-box business models.

For example, Uber drivers – because Uber is not seen as a taxi company, and the drivers not as employees, but as private drivers – need not follow the same health and safety requirements, licensing or professional demands as the standard taxi drivers. This allows Uber to push down the prices, putting an unfair downward pressure on the wages, working conditions and market share of other regulated businesses.

By redefining their own role as something other than an employer, Uber and others could circumvent labour laws, and get away with paying people way below the minimum wage.

The London ruling stops this, and is hopefully the beginning to the end of these practices. UNI Global Union stresses that every company, in both the online and offline economy, has an obligation to contribute through taxes and social costs to the societies in which they are embedded, and on which they depend. 

It remains to be seen what happens in Australia regarding the treatment of these types of companies and their employees, but the SDA is monitoring the situation and will continue to fight to stop exploitation of workers, regardless of whether they’re employed by a department store, fast food franchise, 7-Eleven or Uber.