Industry must prepare for the on-demand worker
The proliferation of digital technology that has defined the start of the 21st century has made fundamental transformations to communities and cultures, and the day-to-day interactions we have as individuals, suppliers, consumers of goods and services, and employers of people.
Just as the combustible engine forever changed how communities, businesses and cultural institutions interact, today’s equivalent – the mobile phone or handheld tablet – has upended how we interact and communicate.
If the legacy of the Model T Ford or the de Havilland Comet was their ability to bring people closer, history will cast the technology behind these platforms as the advancement that brought us even closer.
Transport operators have embraced new mobile technology and quickly identified where it could create greater efficiencies, safer workplaces and faster deliveries, with customers and consumers being the ultimate benefactors.
The latest development every sector of the economy is having to adjust for is the on-demand worker, a worker classification made possible from technology that has converted mobile phones and tablets into veritable noticeboards for jobs and income.
Transport is feeling the greatest impact of this because travel is essential for virtually every on-demand worker transaction.
Over one-third of new businesses created in Australia over the past year was in the transportation sector, according to CommSec, with ride-sharing businesses alone soaring by a massive 39 per cent.
The on-demand worker manifests in the form of the Uber driver that takes you home from work or delivers your evening meal, or the concreter you found on Airtaskr to pour the slab for your new home extension.
By and large, they work for themselves and set their own hours, which is one of the greatest appeals for gig economy workers who want flexible hours and working conditions.
Governments and industry sectors have rightly identified there may be unintended consequences of the rapid rise of the gig economy and on-demand worker, with the Victorian Government recently calling for submissions to its Inquiry into the Victorian on-demand workforce.
For all their lifestyle and social benefits, on-demand jobs remain generally unregulated, which has consequences for remuneration, superannuation, occupational health and safety and other aspects of employment that are typically covered under employment laws and regulations.
In its submission, the VTA expressed concern that persistent and unregulated proliferation of on-demand jobs could compromise the living standards workers have become accustomed to because remuneration erosion is inevitable in an increasingly competitive on-demand worker economy.
Most rational people will opt for the driver that charges $3 to deliver their pizza than the one that charges $5.
Extrapolate this across the broader economy and on-demand workforce and the potential for unintended consequences are clear.
Our submission focussed on the need to land on an accepted economy-wide definition of the on-demand worker, and that such a definition should not be confused with piece, casual, on-call, home-based or other labour hire definitions.
Such a legal definition of the on-demand worker would be significant because it is the key threshold question that determines which regulatory framework applies across areas including wages and conditions, health and safety, workers compensation and taxation.
Whilst our submission acknowledged independent contractors and casual workforces continue to have their challenges, employment arrangements and contractor engagements generally understood and manageable in the transport and logistics industry, regulation of on-demand workers in the ‘gig’ economy, however, needs immediate attention.
This is evident in payment standards, employment contracts, and adherence to the handling of accruals, shift loadings and entitlements such as holiday, family and long-service leave, superannuation and accident compensation that are currently unavailable to the on-demand worker.
Notwithstanding their advantages, the on-demand worker’s dependence on digital platforms can enable avoidance of industrial relations responsibilities.
For example, current regulatory gaps can be exploited to avoid application of workplace laws and other statutory obligations.
This is unacceptable and clearly places employers that operate professionally and comply with relevant industrial laws and within statutory requirements at a competitive disadvantage.
There is no doubt the on-demand worker and the gig economy they work in is here to stay.
The challenge is to sensibly regulate their growth in a way that upholds living standards, provides clear career pathways for skills development, and avoids an underclass of workers that would subvert standards we have worked so hard to establish.
Victorian Transport Association