Gig economy giants grilled over minimum wage and insurance payments at NSW Senate inquiry

Rideshare companies such as Uber and Deliveroo have defended their business models as an inquiry investigates the treatment of gig-economy workers.

Transport for London had already been keeping Uber on an increasingly tight leash.

Gig-economy companies such as Uber are coming under increasing pressure to improver workers' rights. Source: AAP

Australia's so-called "gig economy" giants are coming under pressure to reform their industry as a NSW Parliamentary inquiry into insecure work gets underway. 

At a NSW Senate inquiry on Monday, rideshare companies such as Uber and Deliveroo defended their business model, which refuses to consider their workers as employees with rights to minimum wage and injury compensation.

As hearings continue, the inquiry is exposing how some workers are themselves paying for accident insurance despite earning below minimum wages.

Uber driver Assad Manzoorq said many workers in his position were hesitant to speak out.

“We considered ourselves invisible before the COVID happened, then everyone relied on the service we are providing. And others as well, the citizens, the immigrants, the workers, the students... they considered that even if we speak out, we raise our voice, we think, it's an understanding that no-one is going to hear us," he said.

"Now that you guys are hearing, I'm here to ask you guys to kindly do anything, something about this, put guidelines in place, better working conditions for us."

Esteban Salazar is also a driver with Uber.

He had an accident while working on a rainy night in September last year.

Mr Salazar said his health care insurance didn't cover the full costs of the accident, so he was forced to dig into his own pocket.

It was this incident that made him realise he wasn't covered the way other workers are in Australia.

"Even knowing all those things, they never asked me how I was feeling, how was the accident, which made me realise these companies don't really care about their workers, they just care about making workers do what they ask them to do."

National secretary of the Transport Workers' Union Michael Caine said urgent action was needed to protect the workers.

"This is life or death. If five workers in any other industry had been killed in the space of 11 weeks, this nation would have stopped, and this nation should stop today," he said.

"At the start of this inquiry, pause and take stock. It's time for the federal government to act. The silence has been deafening."

General Manager of Uber Australia and New Zealand, Dominic Taylor, defended his company at the hearing.

"We've led the industry in instant duty and injury income protection insurance policy. Others in the industry don't have it, and so what that means, senator, is that you can be working on Uber and be covered by this policy but in that same hour or ten-minute range, you could have an accident on another, and not be covered."

Ola Australia's Director, Ann Tan, said the company cancelled insurance payments last June.

“That was a financial decision that we made due to the impacts of COVID, yes. At the very highest peak of COVID, we experienced about 60 to 70 per cent de-growth in our business in Australia."

Delivery giant Menulog is, however, planning to trial its drivers as employees.

"If you move to a different model where you're paid by the hour, I think to a certain extent, you would limit that," Menulog Australia Managing Director Morten Belling said.

Australia's minimum wage is $24 an hour.

Uber says their average hourly rate is $21 per hour, but a senator cited three independent reports revealing Uber’s average hourly rate has been between $8.50 and $12 over the past three years.

The inquiry heard one recommendation to address worker safety and income protection could be a compulsory fund, where rideshare companies could contribute to workers compensation, leave entitlements and accident insurance for workers.

4 min read
Published 13 April 2021 at 9:45am
By Camille Bianchi, Nadine Silva