An Australian employment law expert is calling for better regulation of the gig economy, following Uber Eats’ moves to force workers to pay for their own insurance in case of injury or death, or lose their jobs.
Slater and Gordon Principal Lawyer (Industrial and Employment) Andrew Rich said the move highlighted the power imbalance between the global company and its vulnerable workers who are without workers’ compensation rights.
Mr Rich said although Uber Eats was making it harder for workers to prove they were employees and not contractors, workers could still potentially be deemed employees on a number of fronts.
“Uber Eats drivers and riders are not permitted to have any independent contact with customers or to establish customer connection for their own business and depend on Uber for the provision of work,” Mr Rich said.
“Workers are paid low rates of pay that are dictated by Uber, who also control how they do their work. All of this suggests that they are employees working in Uber’s business, not in their own.”
He said the Uber Eats drivers and riders had no capacity to actually negotiate the terms on which they are engaged.
“There is no semblance of equality in the bargaining positions of Uber and the drivers and riders. The workers cannot negotiate their pay or conditions. Uber is making individual drivers and riders pay for their own workers’ compensation insurance, rather than paying its own insurance premiums to cover them, which all other employers are expected to do.
“Uber Eats is trying to make workers appear to be contractors, despite the fact that the work does not require special skills or qualifications. This suggests a real need for regulation of at least some sectors within the gig economy regardless of whether they are contractors or not”, Mr Rich added.
Mr Rich said the fundamental problem was that low paid and vulnerable workers were being disguised as independent contractors so companies like Uber Eats could continue denying them rights provided to other employees, and “the deck is being stacked against them”.
Uber Eats avoided a landmark ruling on the status of its workers by settling a case with a delivery rider, before the Australian Federal Court could rule whether the sacked rider was an employee or a contractor.
Uber Eats recently said it would remove a clause in its new contract for workers that attempted to silence riders from speaking out about their working conditions which could lead to regulatory scrutiny.