Ride-sharing giant Uber and the Transport Workers’ Union have struck a landmark agreement on proposed employment standards and benefits ahead of expected new gig economy regulation from the Albanese government.
The union and Uber have also agreed to jointly support the creation of a new independent government-funded regulatory body to create industry-wide standards for ride share and food delivery gig workers following months of negotiations.
Under the agreed standards, the body will be responsible for creating minimum and transparent enforceable earnings, benefits and conditions for people who work on the ride-share platform. The body will also act as a means for resolving disputes over platform employment issues, such as when a worker’s account is deactivated.
The standards also outline that the rights of workers to join and be represented by a union will be respected.
“It is quite a remarkable document. It’s a remarkable set of principles,” the Transport Workers’ Union national secretary, Michael Kaine, told Guardian Australia.
“It’s something that identifies that we need change, and there is a pathway to change, and we’ve got a new federal government that’s indicated that it wants to act in this area as well. So the stars are aligning for us all.”
Uber’s general manager in Australia, Dominic Taylor, said the new standards would still retain flexibility for drivers and delivery drivers.
“[That] flexibility [is] why, we hear from our drivers, they come back time and time again. However, what we are announcing today is how do we work towards a system that allows us to also overlay benefits that are more commonly associated with an employment-like contract, in the form of benefits, guarantees, safety nets,” he said.
Labor promised ahead of the May election to update the Fair Work Act to account for the rise of the gig economy, including expanding the Fair Work Commission to cover “employee-like” forms of work like gig economy work, allowing it to set minimum standards.
Guardian Australia has previously reported on the difficulties drivers face when they have their accounts deactivated as a result of false customer complaints. Lorna Berry, an Uber driver based in Melbourne, told a Senate inquiry last year her account had been deactivated after someone had reported her for being “violent” after informing the customers of the mask requirement.
She said at the time there was no phone line to contact the company, meaning she had to deal with them over email. It took four or five days until her account was reactivated. Phone support has since resumed.
Kaine said the new dispute mechanism should be designed so that workers have confidence that if they do the right thing, they will get a decent wage, be taken care of when things go wrong, get access to a workplace health and safety system, and they won’t be arbitrarily terminated.
“All of that’s a package and it all goes towards industry sustainability. How it will look at the end of the day, that’s something for the future,” he said. “But the intention is that we build a sustainable system that has [an] industry-wide set of standards so we can get a level playing field.”
Taylor said Uber wanted to see other ride-share and delivery companies participate and for the changes to apply industry-wide, but said it was important for Uber to take the leading role.
“As the market leader in both ride-share and online food delivery sector with over 100,000 drivers and delivery people making money from Uber every month, quite frankly, we need to take a position of leadership,” he said. “That’s why we are excited to work with [the TWU] in going to Canberra to lay out our vision for what it looks like to improve the quality of independent work in Australia.”