Legislative Council: Wednesday, February 22, 2023


Gig Economy

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. I. Pnevmatikos:

1. That a select committee of the Legislative Council be established to inquire into and report on the gig economy with particular reference to:

(a) the prevalence of gig economy work within South Australia;

(b) the various forms of gig economy work;

(c) the current legislative and regulatory regime and the extent of compliance within that regime;

(d) the impacts of the gig economy on workers inside and outside of the gig economy and the impact of gig economy work on families, communities and businesses;

(e) the individual, business, community and statewide economic impacts of the gig economy;

(f) the impact of the prevalence and practices of the gig economy in relation to government procurement and expenditure;

(g) the intersection of slavery and slavery-like practices;

(h) current supports available to workers and employers;

(i) other jurisdictions' legislative, regulatory and policy solutions to address issues within the gig economy;

(j) the implications of the gig economy in respect of compliance with treaties and obligations;

(k) legislative, regulatory and policy and legislative implications in South Australia; and

(l) any other related matter.

2. That this council permits the select committee to authorise the disclosure or publication, as it sees fit, of any evidence or documents presented to the committee prior to such evidence being presented to the council.

(Continued from 30 November 2022.)

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (19:56): I rise to speak briefly on behalf of the Greens today in support of this motion. I thank the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos for bringing this important issue to our attention. The popular perception of digitised irregular work, or gigs, applies to many different kinds of potential work across a range of industries and involves many types of business. Put simply, it is an imprecise concept.

Despite the wide variety of situations and terminology, several key features typify most forms of gig work. Gig workers typically face irregular work schedules, driven by fluctuations of demand for their services. In most positions, the worker provides almost all of the equipment used directly for their role, from a bicycle or a car for food delivery to more complex and expensive transportation or computing equipment in other jobs. Many gig workers also provide their own place of work, at home or elsewhere.

Most gig jobs are compensated on a piecework basis, with payment defined according to specific tasks rather than unit of time worked. Additionally, gig jobs are usually understood to be organised around some form of digital mediation, including web-based platforms. We continue to hear more stories about the impacts of the gig economy as it proliferates across the country and across the world. Dr Caleb Goods, Senior Lecturer in Management and Organisations at the University of Western Australia Business School said:

People are attracted to gig work because of its positive attributes such as low barriers to entry and flexible time commitments.

However, the pandemic shed light on the precarious conditions of gig economy workers. With cost-of-living pressures, including rising rents and mortgage payments, food and medical appointments, these additional sources of income are crucial to the wellbeing of so many South Australians.

Nevertheless, the growth of gig work also represents a new frontier in industrial relations disputes. Recent decisions in courts around the world have shown the divergence of opinion relating to the classification of gig workers. Australia's Fair Work Commission concluded that they are not employees and that they fall under the independent contractor model. In 2021, the UK Supreme Court declared them employees and a Dutch judge ruled that Uber drivers should be classified as employees and entitled to the benefits of that status. Across the other side of the globe, in Florida, legislation confirmed that Uber drivers are independent contractors. This is clearly a complex issue that does need further review.

This classification by the Fair Work Commission defining gig workers as 'contractors' means, because they are not employed on a formal basis, these workers are excluded from Australia's national employment system and, as such, they do not receive superannuation, comprehensive occupational health and safety coverage or minimum pay.

In a case settled out of court involving an Adelaide Uber Eats food delivery driver, we see the need to provide basic employment rights to gig workers. Ms Amita Gupta and her partner made 2,200 deliveries for Uber Eats over 18 months. In one week, the couple worked for 96 hours and earned just $300. When she was then 10 minutes late in delivering an order, Uber Eats cut off her access to its delivery app. Uber decided to pay Ms Gupta $400,000 rather than risk having its legion of low-paid workers being classed as employees by a court.

Gig workers highlight underlying problems concerning how our nation regulates work and ascribes economic security to standard forms of work that are clearly not standard. Associate Professor Marinella Marmo from Flinders University's College of Business says the 'out of court settlement hinged on two key mechanisms of "algorithm control" taking responsibility from the company, and a popular narrative of worker autonomy and choice'. Inadequate legal reforms, limited power of unions and absence of other safeguards covering this new-economy industry continues to disadvantage gig workers and reinforce the powers of companies operating in such precarious, casual labour markets.

As we come out of this global pandemic, we need to address these issues urgently. We have a duty to South Australians to ensure their wellbeing as well as their working rights and interests are protected. With the establishment of this select committee, we can effectively address these issues. Without adjusting and strengthening labour regulations and safety nets to reflect the new practices of the gig economy, we will set back the prospect of an all-inclusive and fair labour market. The Greens look forward to supporting this inquiry. With that, I commend the mover for bringing this issue to the parliament, and I commend the motion.

The Hon. H.M. GIROLAMO (20:01): I rise to speak on this motion brought to the chamber by the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos and indicate that I am the lead speaker for the opposition. I also indicate that the opposition supports the passing of this motion to establish a select committee in this place to inquire and report on the prevalence of the gig economy in South Australia.

The gig economy, also called platform economy, share economy and on-demand work, is a relatively new term but not a new concept—freelancing and doing odd jobs, sometimes helping a neighbour in need; the concept has always been around. But these days, with everyone having a phone in their pocket, help is a button away.

Safe Work Australia reported in 2021 that the gig economy is only growing, with more than 100 platforms operating in Australia. This explosion in apps drove Safe Work Australia to publish a fact sheet explaining workers compensation and its relevance to the gig economy. They can assist with anything from getting a lift in a car via an Uber, Ola or DiDi to having food, groceries or coffee delivered from your favourite shops at a time most convenient to you and your hunger pains, or Hire A Hubby, Airtasker and Freelancer-style platforms and apps that can bring friendly help or a tool to your house for assistance with jobs around the house, or help with graphic design, administration or crowdsourcing ideas.

The gig economy can fill a gap for some shops, both small and big, that do not have a delivery service, from your local chicken shop to McDonald's. There is seemingly no limit to the food services available to Uber, Uber Eats, Hungry Panda and Doordash, just as a few examples. Probably the most popular one that everyone seems to know is Uber. It has been around in some form in South Australia since 2014. When it started in South Australia, it ran into the great roadblock that is Tom Koutsantonis in the other place.

The gig economy can work in different ways for different people. For some, they use it to supplement their income, using their spare time to make money with all the tools ready at their disposal. It might fit in with a young person, driving while fitting around their uni timetable. For others, doing home-based or office-based work, it might fit around school pickup and drop-off and it could be done after the kids go to bed.

Hand in hand with some of these amazing opportunities there are some downsides, which are probably more likely the motivation for the motion before us. The exploitation of workers—who have to use their own car for example and maintain it—for an irregular income can be challenging, especially if that is the only income that person is relying on, and by its very nature it is not regular.

Another concern is liability for workers compensation, and the debate between employee and contractor will no doubt be teased out in the select committee. As the honourable member has noted in bringing this motion to the chamber, the Fair Work Ombudsman provides some guidance to determine whether someone can be classified as an independent contractor where additional challenges and regulations may be faced.

Again, as the honourable member pointed out in her contribution on the motion, the gig economy is here to stay. I think a select committee is the right place to address and work through concerns that we as legislators have. I look forward to the passing of this motion.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (20:05): I rise on behalf of SA-Best to speak in support of the motion of the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos to establish this select committee. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the words 'gig economy' are defined as:

A way of working that is based on people having temporary jobs or doing separate pieces of work, each paid separately, rather than working for an employer.

In Australia, we generally associate it with transport company Uber and food delivery services such as Uber Eats and Menulog, amongst myriad other sorts of work that have been highlighted by other honourable members.

Who does not like to order a meal or transport with the swipe of an app on their phone? I have to say for the record, I do not. I do not like it, but notwithstanding my personal dislikes of Uber Eats and Menulog and whatever else comes delivered in a paper bag, convenience is a driving force and the main reason demand has gone through the roof in recent times.

In the four years to 2019, the Australian gig economy grew ninefold to $6.3 billion according to the Actuaries Institute. With cost-of-living pressures on the rise, it is likely more and more people will be looking to supplement their income with this type of work. While there are obvious short-term benefits for people who work in the gig economy, including that flexibility and low barriers to entry, the longer term risks, as we know, are very significant. Those risks are overwhelmingly borne by vulnerable groups, such as young workers and students, as well as people with language barriers and newly-arrived migrants.

Gig economy workers are generally not paid super, as we know. They also have no entitlement to a minimum wage, sick leave, other sorts of leave and workers compensation insurance. This is clearly an area of industrial relations that requires urgent attention and scrutiny, especially given some of the more recent decisions and judgements that have been handed down by those who have made claims against their 'employers'.

We from SA-Best certainly commend the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos for her ongoing work in this area, including her prior committee on wage theft, slave labour and labour hire, something I know she is extremely passionate about, and for seeking to now establish this important committee that will follow on, I think, quite neatly from the work that this parliament has done previously on those issues.

I do not think any of us should be under any illusion just how much that wage theft inquiry helped shine a light on some of the unacceptable workplace practices that have come to our attention as a result of that very important committee process. For that, we commend the member and support the motion wholeheartedly.

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (20:09): I would like to thank the Hon. Heidi Girolamo, the Hon. Tammy Franks and the Hon. Connie Bonaros for their contributions. I anticipate, based on their comments, that the establishment of this committee will be supported and I look forward to the work that we have ahead of us. Some of it is uncharted, but I undertake to promise that we will not be exploring the activities and usage of the gig economy that individual members may have.

Motion carried.

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS: I move:

That the select committee consist of the Hon. Reggie Martin, the Hon. Laura Henderson, the Hon. Heidi Girolamo, the Hon. Rob Simms and the mover.

Motion carried.

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS: I move:

That the select committee have power to send for persons, papers and records, to adjourn from place to place and to report on Wednesday 28 June 2023.

Motion carried.