Gig work set for major shake-up

A major shake-up to the rules in the “gig” economy will be introduced to the federal parliament in September. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Monique Harmer

Companies that use on-demand workers, such as Uber, Menulog and Mabel, are set to face a major shake-up under proposed changes to Australia’s workplace laws.

In a speech to the National Press Club on Thursday, Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke announced new regulations for digital platforms across sectors including food delivery, ride sharing and in-demand care.

While “gig” or on-demand work has always been part of the Australian economy, the value of digital platforms to connect sellers and buyers has grown exponentially in recent years to become a multi-billion dollar industry.

But workers on digital platforms are often engaged as contractors, rather than direct employees, meaning they are not entitled to conditions such as minimum hourly wages or sick days.

Workers in the “gig” economy could soon have new pay and conditions. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Martin Ollman

The role of Australia’s workplace umpire, the Fair Work Commission, will be expanded to set new minimum standards for gig work, such as pay and conditions, and will also hear unfair dismissal claims.

But the commission will not be allowed to make changes that undermine a job’s flexibility, such as changing rostering arrangements or overtime rates.

As new and evolving platforms emerge, the commission will additionally determine whether minimum standards for these businesses are necessary.

Digital marketplaces, including Airtasker and HiPages, are not expected to be covered under the new regulations.

Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke unveiled the changes at the National Press Club on Thursday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Tertius Pickard

“The previous government didn’t think it was a problem people were getting paid below the legal minimum,” Mr Burke told the National Press Club.

“The Albanese Labor government is taking a different approach and we will close this loophole.

“We’re not trying to turn people into employees when they don’t want to be employees. A whole lot of gig workers like the flexibility from using this technology and that won’t change under our laws.

“Just because someone is working in the gig economy shouldn’t mean that they end up being paid less than they would if they’d been an employee.”

Mr Burke also provided a guarantee that the changes would in no way affect genuine independent contractors, such as skilled tradespeople.

The union movement has campaigned strongly for the changes while business groups voiced their opposition. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Nikki Short

The proposed changes to platform work have garnered strong support from the union movement, who argue that the current conditions in the gig economy deliberately deprive workers of their basic rights and entitlements.

But the reforms have been met with fierce opposition from employers, who argue that the proportion of gig workers is just 0.8 per cent of the total workforce and that conferring employment conditions upon gig work risks undermining the sector’s viability.

Following the introduction of multi-employer bargaining last year, the changes to regulate the gig economy form part of a second tranche of workplace changes which also include cracking down on labour hire, making it easier for casual workers to convert to permanent roles, and increasing penalties for wage underpayments.

The Closing Loopholes Bill is set to be tabled in parliament by Mr Burke next week.