Transport Workers’ Union strikes deal with Uber

In Legal Lines, September 20224 MinutesBy Danielle BestonOctober 6, 2022

A landmark agreement in Australia has levelled the playing field for gig workers.

The Australian branch of Uber appears to be embracing the idea of self-regulation by signing an agreement with the Transport Workers Union (“the TWU”) in Australia. This is a landmark agreement as the deal marks the first time a platform company in Australia has dealt with a union across both the rideshare and food-delivery industries, and it signifies a major shift in industrial relations in the gig economy.

It provides a more level playing field for the industry by protecting the flexibility of gig workers and supporting the creation of minimum baseline standards for those working in the on-demand section of the transport industry.

What is the gig economy?

A gig worker is a professional who, instead of receiving a regular income, receives wages based on the one-time projects, or ‘gigs’, that they complete. This makes for a flexible work environment, where employers can offer payment for only the work available for a gig worker to perform. The gig economy is the work and career environment in which these professionals work.

What does the agreement change?

Previously Uber and its rival platforms have treated their drivers and delivery partners as independent contractors. As a result, these workers do not enjoy employee benefits such as sick leave, minimum wages, union representation or the recourse to address grievances. The TWU national secretary, Michael Kaine, sees the agreement as “a significant and positive development in the years-long campaign led by gig economy workers to modernise out-of-date industrial laws”.

The deal comes with industry-wide standards, including minimum enforceable earnings and conditions for platform workers, a cost-effective dispute-resolution method, the rights of platform workers to join and be represented by registered organisations and an appropriate enforcement to meet standards. The agreement also outlines a commitment to continue holding discussions about applying the principles while developing industry standards that satisfy the rideshare and delivery industries.

What are the main objectives?

A statement of principles has been developed, setting out four key objectives:

• An enforceable floor regarding earnings to give transparency to drivers and ensure platforms don’t seek to compete by driving down labour costs.

• Enhanced and low-cost opportunities for workers to resolve disputes via an independent umpire, potentially as part of the Fair Work Commission, to apply minimum standards and practices across the industry.

• The right for workers to collectively organise and be represented by a union.

• The effective enforcement of these and other standards, including occupational health and safety compliance.

An end to classification debates?

This voluntary union-platform agreement to pursue improved working conditions may mean that classification debates battled out in the Fair Work Commission and the Australian courts will cease. No longer will there need to be complex arguments formulated about whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor.

It is hoped that this agreement signals a different approach, resulting in better outcomes for partners and the platforms who will avoid the cost and reputational damage that comes with ongoing litigation. The agreement also helps unions know where they stand because it implicitly acknowledges the union’s right to recruit, organise and represent gig workers.