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Unionising Gig Economy Workers – The New Frontier in Industrial Relations

Changes to the gig economy and workers’ rights are issues that continue to be fought. Recently, there have been a number of court judgments which people have perceived as being inconsistent. This includes the High Court decision that two truck drivers were contractors, despite 30 years of service to a company, and contrastingly a finding by the Court that a backpacker who worked for a labour-hire company was an employee despite a signed agreement which expressly described him as a “self-employed contractor”.

This begs the question, does our classification of workers need to be changed?

How are Workers Currently Categorised?

Workers are currently categorised as employees or contractors. The classification between the two is often decided based on a list of factors. These list of factors (such as who supplies the equipment and who pays tax) requires a weighing-up exercise.

Importantly, these factors and the weight each should be given is informed by Court judgments, not legislation. This means that they change over time and depending on the circumstances of each case.

Is a New Category Required?

The chief of the ACTU, Sally McManus, has declared that a new class of worker in the gig economy is warranted. Her vow is to allow riders and drivers working for gig economy power houses such as Uber and Deliveroo, for example, to have the ability to band together in arguments for better pay.

The push would be for industrial relations laws to adapt to facilitate a retention of the flexibility afforded to gig economy workers, whilst enabling the security and bargaining power or collective rights including not being paid less than minimum wage.

In the context, at a state government level, the Victoria Labour government has forged ahead of other states announcing that it will implement changes to protect gig economy workers thereby increasing pressure on the Federal government to implement change at a national level.

Flexibility greater than even casual employment is undoubtedly an attractive characteristic of the gig economy workplace, and unionising may hinder that complete flexibility. But these changes inevitably come with a bargaining compromise and certainly protection from exploitation for those workers should be a paramount ambition.

As the labour market continues to develop and change in the context of the gig economy’s strength and allure, industrial law will be a dynamic area to watch and participate in as the Courts and Fair Work Commission adapt to the newly implemented policies and legislation to keep up.

As the tension of the divide between contractor and employee bends, yields and snaps or bounces back, in the framework of a change of Federal government from blue to red, and with the unions demanding change, there is a lot for businesses to keep in mind when employing (or contracting) gig economy workers. These changes will surely have a flow on effect to other areas of employment law as well.

If you have any questions about employees within your business, reach out to one of our experienced employment lawyers at at Taurus Legal Management on (03) 9481 2000 or info@tauruslawyers.com.au.

You can also read about the recent High Court decision in our article found here.

Posted by Taurus Legal Management