Tony Burke, the workplace relations minister, has suggested that consumers might need to pay slightly more for home-delivered food and ride-sharing services to support improved conditions for gig economy workers.
Speaking at the National Press Club, Burke highlighted that while underpaying workers might seem cheaper for consumers, a minor additional cost could go towards enhancing worker safety and conditions.
Gig economy reforms in Australia to address worker conditions and wages
Burke’s comments have sparked reactions from employer groups, who argue that Labor’s proposed gig economy reforms will lead to increased complexity and higher prices.
They are urging the Senate to reject the bill in its entirety. However, the Australian Council of Trade Unions dismisses these claims as part of a profit-focused “scare campaign,” asserting that basic conditions are vital for workers to manage rising living costs.
The forthcoming bill, scheduled to be introduced after question time, will empower the Fair Work Commission to establish minimum standards for digital platform workers starting from July 1, 2024.
This bill also encompasses equal pay for labor hire workers, the criminalization of wage theft, and improved rights for casual employees.
The proposed gig economy reforms will enable parties to seek minimum standards orders from the commission, including aspects like pay, penalty rates, superannuation, payment terms, record-keeping, insurance, and deactivation.
Addressing potential consumer impacts, Burke stated, “Underpaying people is cheaper.” He emphasized that a “modest pass-through” could be necessary due to the improved conditions for gig workers.
Burke pointed out that without minimum pay, gig workers might engage in risky behaviors to meet demand, jeopardizing their safety and road users.
Burke clarified that the Fair Work Commission would determine minimum pay, which could be per minute or per five-minute blocks, making it difficult to quantify the exact consumer price impact.
He stressed the importance of reinstating appropriate minimum standards for gig workers, highlighting how delivery drivers for franchises like Pizza Hut were previously employees with minimum rights.
Burke also noted the collaboration of platforms like Uber, suggesting that their in-principle support implies the potential minimal impact on prices.