University of Western Australia: The gig economy, non-standard work and flexibility

Dr Caleb Goods, Senior Lecturer in Management and Organisations at the UWA Business School, is one of more than 50 contributors who participated in the ground-breaking report WA 2050: People, Place, Prosperity published by the UWA Public Policy Institute (UWA PPI) which lays out what’s at stake across the next 30 years for our State.

Non-standard or precarious forms of work such as casual employment, fixed-term, labour hire and part-time work has grown significantly.

In 2017, these forms of work made up 55.6 per cent of all jobs in Australia. Looking internationally, Australia has a very high level of non-standard work, ranking 3rd in the OECD in 2013.1

“People are attracted to gig work because of its positive attributes such as low barriers to entry and flexible time commitments. However, the growth of gig work also represents a new frontier in precarious work.”

Dr Caleb Goods
Recently, we have witnessed the rise of the gig economy, the allocation of one-off ‘gigs’ organised through platforms such as Uber or Airtasker. ‘Gigs’ can be as simple as delivering food or as complex as designing a new website.

Uber eats

In 2019, 7.1 per cent of Australians were working, or had sought to participate in the ‘gig economy’. Uber Eats has approximately 59,000 workers registered in Australia. In comparison, the Western Australian Education Department, WA’s biggest employer, has approximately 40,000 staff.

People are attracted to gig work because of its positive attributes such as low barriers to entry and flexible time commitments. However, the growth of gig work also represents a new frontier in precarious work.

Gig workers are presently classified as contractors and excluded from Australia’s national employment system, meaning they do not receive superannuation, comprehensive occupation health and safety (OHS) coverage or minimum pay.

In 2020, six food delivery riders died in New South Wales in just two months. Gig work highlights underlying problems concerning how Australia and WA have regulated work and ascribed economic security to standard forms of work that are clearly not standard for more than 50 per cent of the labour market.

Two proposals
1. Beyond completely re-thinking work, WA could improve gig work by amending the Work Health and Safety Act 2020 to introduce new standards, particularly for high-risk work such as food delivery, requiring platforms to provide safety equipment, training and comprehensive OHS insurance.

The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety should lead this process and the Commission for Occupational Safety and Health has an important role to play too. NSW is in the process of introducing similar reforms in the next 12 months.

2. Nationally, the Fair Work Act should be amended to allow gig workers access to the Fair Work Commission to resolve issues such as unfair dismissal and to require the Fair Work Ombudsman to ensure workers are able to earn, at least, the national minimum wage. Expending existing safety nets would better ensure gig work is fair and flexible into the future

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