Uber, Deliveroo, AirTasker: How fair are they for workers?

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You can get sushi delivered at midnight, get your dog walked and even get someone to pick up your dog’s poo in your backyard. But who are the people delivering these services, and what is the true cost of our convenience on them?

It’s estimated that nearly 100,000 people in NSW are working in the so-called ‘gig economy’ – a rising tide of private contractors accepting one-off jobs via apps.

“I think people would be surprised to know that the guy who is actually knocking at the door delivering your midnight sushi or whatever is earning under the minimum wage,” says Davide, a rider for the food delivery service Foodora.

Davide is employed by Foodora as a private contractor – not an employee – and for that reason he is not entitled to minimum wage.

At the end of the day, however, even though Davide only makes $14 per hour plus $5 for every delivery, he often takes home considerably more than he would if he was being paid minimum wage.

“I can make up to $50 an hour. I know where to go, I'm pretty fast and compared to other riders, I can do at least three, four orders more than them. So I can make more money. […] If you’re new, you wait in front of the restaurants for orders, maybe 25-30 minutes. It's like you're working, but you're not getting paid,” says Davide.

Foodora’s most recent recruits are paid more per-delivery than Davide, but they aren’t entitled to an hourly wage – so if they don’t get any orders during their shift, they don’t earn any money.

And when riders aren’t sitting around waiting for orders, they’re cycling, without insurance, on Sydney’s busy roads while navigating on a smartphone under pressure to order food while it’s still hot – but these are conditions that many young Europeans are happy to accept. Youth employment in Europe has been lagging since the GFC, so gigging in Sydney has become a very attractive new work-and-travel option. 

Mark Morey of Unions NSW, says, “The gig economy is like the wild west industrially. People are working for no penalty rates, no permanent jobs, no workers’ compensation, no dispute resolution procedures, it's just a hodge podge of conditions.”

Workers around the world have been protesting for better working conditions. Locally, Unions NSW took the fight to Airtasker.

AirTakser is a platform where users can post odd jobs (run errands, assemble furniture, etc.) with a suggested fee, then those who want the job can bid for it.

Mark Morey says, “We know that some people will choose between having a job that's paid under the minimum rate as opposed to having no job. I don't think that's right. I don't think the general Australian public would say that's a fair situation.”

On the other hand, Airtasker’s CEO, Tim Fung, says, “I think the number one thing that workers want is work. So if we ask our Airtasker workers, ‘Hey, if we took these measures and we increased rates and we kind of forced it to be this way but you'll get 10% of the number of jobs,’ then I think they would probably say ‘no we don't want all of those measures to take place.’

Earlier this year Unions NSW and Airtasker reached an agreement they hailed as a “world first”. It included educating people on fair rates, safety, insurance and disputes. This agreement, however, is not legally binding and Airtakser has not set a minimum hourly wage.

Rachel Botsman, who has consulted and written widely on the gig economy, doesn’t think applying old employment rules to new ways of working is the way forward. She says, “We really should be innovating around these problems rather than trying to squash them with red tape and regulation.”

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