In 2018, the Victorian Government commissioned an Inquiry into the on-demand workforce across the Victorian labour market. The motivation for this Inquiry was the increasing concern regarding the wages and conditions for workers in the gig economy.
In this post, I review the findings of this Inquiry, including the recommendations put forward. To provide context, the Inquiry involved an extensive consultation process, where 94 submissions were analysed and over 200 participants provided feedback and insight.
What is the on-demand workforce?
Firstly, let me define the categories of worker that sit within the on-demand workforce: these are the workers who procure paid work via technology platforms, from any person who needs said work completed. Examples of these platforms include:
- Freelancer.com – a platform offering workers across almost any category of a deliverable. From shipping and transportation to graphic design, house cleaning, translation services, tax and IT services and legal advice, to name just a few.
- Airtasker.com – another generalist platform, better known for help around the home (eg handyman, cleaners, IKEA furniture assembly), but also offering workers across the full suite of business services
- Specialist platforms – these are online marketplaces that offer talent with specialist skills such as creative or marketing professionals; IT professionals and similar
- Food delivery and taxi services – including platforms such as Uber, Lyft, Uber Eats, Menulog, DoorDash and Deliveroo
(There are many additional platforms to this simplistic list above – to learn more you can check out our eBook here.)
Thanks to the proliferation of these platforms, we’ve experienced somewhat of a lifestyle shift in Australia, centred around the on-demand workforce.
- On the consumer side, we can now securely call upon a complete stranger to clean our home, build our new IKEA furniture, transcribe an audio file, or undertake our annual tax assessments.
- And on the worker side, we can pitch ourselves and our skills across a seemingly endless array of online marketplaces, to offer services both niche and generalist.
This dynamic has created an interesting – and at times polarising – mindset amongst Victoria’s workforce, worker’s rights groups, business leaders and politicians.
On the one hand, this new framework for sourcing an income offers workers the freedom to decide when and how they wish to work. And, it enables individuals and businesses to tap into a workforce that has never before been as accessible. The other positive on this point is the reach these platforms offer businesses: organisations have the opportunity to achieve far greater market penetration (UberEats a good example).
On the other hand, there have been consistent concerns about the efficacy of the gig economy; about the treatment of workers; the safety of the work undertaken; whether workers are protected enough, both on the job (such as worker insurances), and in respect to the governance of remuneration.
As a new category of both worker and employment (to speak of both sides of the ‘coin’), the gig economy, as a sub-sector, has exploded at an almost unprecedented rate. And with legal proceedings and legislative changes increasingly on the table, the Victorian Government’s Inquiry has been both timely and well-received so as to address the issues at hand.
Inquiry findings & recommendations
Findings from this report were startling.
Overall, it was determined that the biggest concern for on-demand workers in Victoria, was their ‘uncertain work status’. Major consequences of this uncertainty include a lack of access to superannuation, access to workers compensation, in addition to other statutory benefits afforded to secure workers.
Also, the ability to access advice about their work status has proven difficult for on-demand workers. This advice rarely results in identifiable resolution pathways, and protections for these workers appears limited.
In response to the issues identified, the report outlined nine key desired outcomes from the Government’s investigation:
- Ensure workers’ status is categorised, and there’s adequate clarity around that categorisation for the on-demand workforce. This will reduce any doubt about worker entitlements. It will also provide a better understanding of the obligations of both workers and those businesses engaging them. And, to this end, a better opportunity for legislation to be aligned to these categorisations.
- Where members of the on-demand workforce are considered ‘borderline’ in their work status, provide advice and support to ensure they are correctly categorised and have access to the right entitlements. Offering a clear primary source of advice, including a streamlined support agency, will enable the on-demand workforce to access effective support and dispute resolution options.
- Facilitate fast and efficient resolution to work status uncertainties. This will ensure both workers and business aren’t operating with uncertainty or doubt about the rules.
- Establish Fair Conduct and Accountability Standards for the on-demand workforce. These principles are to be developed via consultation with all relevant stakeholders.
- Provide improved remedies for non-employee workers, to ensure all shortcomings and anomalies of the current situation are adequately addressed.
- Remove the barriers to collective bargaining for the on-demand workforce, by amending competition laws. Ensure these workers can access representation when dealing with online talent platforms, regarding their work situation.
- With the goal of applying modern award status to the on-demand workforce, the Fair Work Commission must be able to work with relevant stakeholders – including both the online talent marketplaces and industry. The goal is to ensure modern awards are fit-for-purpose, they’re fair for all parties and they’re compatible for workers accessing work opportunities via technology
- The existing unfair contract remedies are to be streamlined, clarified and enhanced in support of the on-demand workforce and the organisations engaging them
- Increased enforcement to contracting rules, to ensure compliance especially with respect to sham contracting
The Inquiry also commissioned a national survey to help fill gaps in existing knowledge about the on-demand workforce. The data collected gave the Inquiry insight into the characteristics of people working on-demand, and quantifiable data about their experiences as gig workers. The Victorian Government, Engage Victoria
The Victorian Government is currently in the process of considering the report, its findings and recommendations. A further consultation period with workers and businesses will be opened, before the Government’s response to the recommendations is finalised.
It’s after this process that the Government is expected to respond to the Inquiry’s findings.
The Inquiry has now submitted its report to Government. The Report is available to view and download here.
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