The Transport Workers’ Union welcomes a new international MOU with Uber as an encouraging step towards improving the working conditions of gig workers, but warns the Federal Government’s failure to regulate the industry will continue to leave hundreds of thousands of Australian workers at the mercy of gig exploitation.
The MOU – agreed between the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and Uber – establishes a Forum between the parties to discuss key issues around pay, safety, working conditions, dispute resolution, algorithm transparency and collective bargaining. Negotiations with Uber began in late 2020, with workers hoping the agreement will shift the company towards greater social dialogue about workers’ rights, recognition of unions and most importantly, the need for regulation.
The ITF is a global trade union federation of nearly 700 affiliated trade unions, representing 20 million transport workers in 150 countries. Australian TWU officials hold key leadership positions within the Federation, including in its Gig Economy Advisory Group.
TWU National Secretary Michael Kaine said while a formalised dialogue between workers and gig companies was positive, these discussions needed to be supported by government regulation across the industry.
“This MOU shows that through collective action in different cities and countries across the globe, it’s possible to bring gig giants to the negotiating table. This will provide a framework for important discussions, and we expect Uber to honour its commitment to engage with workers. It’s critical we find pathways to fairer condition, and safer and more transparent rates of pay.
“Workers and their unions globally are doing everything they can to end gig exploitation, but we need governments to step up too. The reality is that Australian gig workers have been abandoned by the Federal Government. We’ve got a Prime Minister who has refused to lift a finger to regulate the industry, either because he’s too afraid to stand toe-to-toe with these Silicon Valley behemoths, or couldn’t care less about the safety of Australian workers.
“Scott Morrison must urgently commit to an independent body to create enforceable standards. That’s the only way we can fix our out-dated industrial relations laws and extended enforceable protections to all workers regardless of their employment status”.
The gig model of exploitation is built around underpaying workers minimum rates. In transport, gig workers are under deadly pressure to make as many deliveries in as short a period as possible, or they risk being terminated by their employers. This pressure incentivises risk taking and increases the likelihood of serious injury or death.
Gig exploitation has also seeped into road freight, with the Amazon’s gig-style Flex service smashing supply chains and undercutting traditional transport companies offering secure jobs and safe conditions. Transport workers and the TWU recently won fair agreements with eight major transport companies which guard against the ‘Amazon Effect’ wreaking havoc in the industry.
On Friday, the TWU succeeded in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to broaden coverage of owner driver minimum rates to smaller classes of vehicles. As a result, drivers for Amazon’s gig-style Amazon Flex model will now receive enforceable minimum rates – a world-first win in the fight to end gig exploitation.