Dissenting Report by Liberal and National Senators

The technological disruption of industry sectors through the emergence of the gig economy is both well-known and a challenge to certain long-established norms of Australian workplace relations. This Senate inquiry was an opportunity to examine options for further reform, with a view to increasing opportunities for Australians to be rewarded for effort and to experience the dignity of work. Instead, the process leading to this interim report has been a political farce—a blatant attempt by Labor and Greens Senators to discredit the success of the Morrison Government's broad management of workplace relations and to campaign for big government control of Australians in the workplace.
Such deeply partisan politicking is obvious through the entirety of the committee's interim report, and highlights that these parties remain a real risk to business and future opportunities for Australians.
Calls in this interim report calling for a national tribunal to oversee employment relationships are deeply reminiscent of the now-thoroughly discredited Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal, whilst calls for a national portable leave scheme would be a tax on jobs that would expand the rorting seen in state-based schemes to an unimaginable extent. As if this wasn't enough to demonstrate the partisan nature of this inquiry, no fewer than four unions have appeared on more than one occasion (namely the Transport Workers Union, Australian Services Union, United Workers Union and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association).
Other witnesses whose testimony is relied on to support many of the claims in the interim report are similarly biased. The Australia Institute's Centre for Future Work is mischaracterised as an independent think tank body, but it is entirely biased in the way it rails against the on-demand economy and gig platforms. Its Advisory Committee and Associates includes the former Chief of Staff of the Leader of the Australian Greens and multiple union organisers and members. When challenged on this, the organisation declined to disclose the level of union support it receives:
Senator SMALL: What percentage, roughly, of the Australia Institute's funding comes from the union movement?
Dr Stanford: The Australia Institute gets funding from a wide range of different organisations, including foundations, philanthropists, individual donors and contract research for different projects and papers, and some comes from trade unions. It's a very small share that comes from trade unions in total.
Senator SMALL: Would you care to give me a percentage?
Dr Stanford: No; I don't have the financial statements in front of me.
Senator SMALL: I noticed that you guys have a lot to say about donations politically for the mining industry, the gun lobby, pay for access and all that sort of thing. So I was just curious as your website was less than clear to me.1
The blatant cherry-picking in the selection of evidence to present in the report totally discredits its contents as partisan stunt. Unanimously and without exception, all rideshare and food delivery platforms that appeared before the committee (Uber and Uber Eats, Ola, Deliveroo and Menulog) stated unequivocally that they permitted workers to use multiple apps simultaneously. The interim report portrays this as a "claim" called into question by "evidence" from one single worker who appeared in a private capacity, such is the level of bias in its compilation.
Further, the question of whether gig economy workers are using their income 'to put food on the table' or are using it as an adjunct to other earnings is an area of contention and uncertainty. It suits the narrative of those who advocate for greater regulation and the imposition of employment conditions on all workers to suggest that participation in the gig economy is 'work of last resort', which is why the interim report cites both the Centre for Future Work and Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees submissions to this effect.
Conveniently, the report completely ignores Queensland University of Technology's Professor Paula McDonald and her testimony that only 2.7 per cent of digital platform workers are deriving their total income from gig work, which aligns with the evidence of the gig platforms.2 Professor McDonald was quoted, however, in her remarks that service providers using Mable to connect to clients were 'not paid to keep their profile up to date or respond to potential jobs'3—an attempt to demonstrate exploitation by Mable but which would seemingly underscore the validity of the point that those persons are independent contractors. Again, this selective presentation of evidence completely destroys any credibility of the interim report whatsoever.
The committee Chair is on the public record describing the gig economy as a system that promotes the 'exploitation of workers' in a 'plague and pandemic of insecure work'.4 Stunningly, University of Sydney academic Professor Joellen Riley Munton appeared in front of the Senate's job security inquiry and went as far as to say:
I suspect the same arguments were made a couple of centuries ago in the deep south in the cotton plantations.5
This type of emotive invocation seeks to unfairly distract from the legitimacy of argument against an enforced minimum income by using unreasonable and baseless rhetoric, and demonstrates that this inquiry has been hijacked for political purposes.
The term 'insecure work' is used mostly by unions and the Labor movement to encapsulate any form of work that is not ongoing or permanent, in a highly pejorative way. However, there is no universally accepted definition of 'insecure work' in Australia or globally. The Australian labour market provides many different forms of work for people in different circumstances or with different needs, and the exponential growth of the on-demand economy is clear evidence of favour among hundreds of thousands of Australians, predominantly as an adjunct to other forms of income.
The interim report attempts to frame the Transport Workers Union (TWU) assertion of $10.42 earned per hour as being representative of average Australian food delivery driver earnings. This once again is a dishonest representation, being based on a self-selected survey of only 209 respondents.
In stark contrast to these claims by the TWU, the data provided by Uber's submission (who are best placed to provide data on earnings) places the average hourly income for gig workers at well over $20 per hour from that platform alone, notwithstanding earnings on other platforms:
… people have an average take-home earnings of $20.47 per hour if they drive a car, $21.97 per hour on a motorcycle and $21.92 per hour on a bicycle.6
This committee has heard repeated evidence that individuals can engage in work that without doing a job interview; work that doesn't require a uniform; work that doesn't require you to show up for shifts or apply for leave, and doesn't require you to work for only one business at a time. Indeed, the committee has repeatedly heard evidence that individuals are not even obligated to accept a task when online. Most Australians would think that it hardly sounded like a job at all—and that's because it isn't. Individuals are empowered with unparalleled flexibility, and that seems to be what has made the gig economy Public Enemy Number One for the Union movement. TWU Secretary Michael Kaine even remarked: 'Because those individuals have no capacity to determine what the value of their work is and what they should be paid'.7
The fact that the TWU’s most senior representative believes that individuals cannot determine their own worth, make decisions for themselves or exercises their own prerogative to work, earn and live as they wish is shocking. Flexibility and autonomy also happens to be one of the most desirable aspects of gig work, in the eyes of those who actually do it. Uber's submission to the inquiry notes:
78% of driver-partners signed up to Uber because of its flexible opportunities—and 3 in 5 would not work at all without the flexibility the app provides. More than 4 out of 5 (83%) of delivery people tell us the same thing: they would no longer work on the Uber Eats app if they are required to deliver during set shifts.
The flexibility of Uber Eats also allowed delivery people to engage in other activities such as studying or other work. Four in five delivery people indicated they were working at least one other job …
Uber's own recent survey with over 16 000 drivers and delivery people across Australia, found that flexibility and independence offered by the Uber app was the top area of satisfaction.8
Frighteningly, some of the changes that Labor and Greens Senators seek to impose have already been implemented in other countries to devastating effect. Geneva mandated that food delivery drivers be classified as employees in a traditional sense, rather than independent contractors. The immediate effect of this change was to put 77 per cent of couriers, or 1 000 people, out of work. Over the three months before September, around 1 300 couriers worked on Uber Eats in Geneva. Under the new operating model, couriers needed to formally apply for a position with the delivery company. The delivery company has only extended employment offers to 300 couriers and all others have lost the ability to earn money with Uber Eats.
The concept of portable leave was considered by the committee, and despite serious concerns being presented to witnesses who were unable to articulate any satisfactory response to the concerns with schemes that were being promoted as examples, the interim report blindly proposes an NDIS-linked scheme. Those serious concerns include the employment of union-linked persons, significant donations of money to unions and so-called entitlements only being paid out at the discretion of a trustee, rather than by any entitlement at law, subject to merits and legal review in the case of a dispute.
Mr Batchelor: We drew on the examples and the experience that we've seen here in Victoria in the construction industry but also more recently in expansion of portable entitlements, particularly in relation to long service leave, in security, cleaning and other parts of community services… The report that we put out says that, based on the successful models we've seen in construction and community services, we think that could be rolled out in other industries.
Senator SMALL: You point to the construction sector as an example where this has been established, so I want to flesh that out a little bit.
Mr Batchelor: In Victoria, in the construction industry, there's a trust fund that exists to oversee and manage those entitlements. It has a long name, but the trading name of the organisation is Incolink.
Senator SMALL: The reason I ask this series of questions is that I have grave concerns with the model that you point to as a viable option for dealing with this. For instance, in 2015–16, $8.5 million was donated to the CFMEU, $742,000 to the AWU and $493,000 to the CFMEU by Incolink. You're pointing to a model that is supposed to address a very noble cause, and that's dealing with pandemic illness. I guess my concern is that nine per cent of private sector employees choose union membership and yet an organisation that effectively covers 100 per cent under the model that you're proposing shovels money their way.
Mr Batchelor: I'm not here to speak up behalf of Incolink. I'm not aware of the circumstances.9
This exchange highlights the partisan agenda at play. In the face of such serious concern going to the heart of existing schemes, it defies any rational belief that the interim report could countenance such a scheme being rolled out on a national scale.
The interim report does acknowledge the lack of evidentiary data on which policy proposals can be formed. Government Senators support Recommendations One and Two, and further note that efforts have been made by the government to improve data collection in the labour market (which includes statistics specifically for on-demand workers, casual workers and workers relying on the Awards system) by committing $2.8 million of new funding over four years to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Government Senators support workplace legislation and reform that promotes increased flexibility for all parties involved, driving better economic outcomes for both business and workers of all classifications. The gig economy does challenge certain aspects of traditional workplace relations frameworks, and is therefore worthy of genuine inquiry as additional disruption takes place across an increasing spectrum of industry sectors. This interim report, however, has been exposed as anything but—it is partisan propaganda of the worst kind.
Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan
Deputy Chair
Nationals Senator for Queensland
Senator Ben Small
Liberal Senator for Western Australia

  • 1
    Dr James Stanford, Economist and Director, Centre for Future Work, Australia Institute, Proof Committee Hansard, 20 April 2021, p. 53.
  • 2
    Professor Paula McDonald, Professor of Work and Organisation, Queensland University of Technology Business School (QUT), Proof Committee Hansard, 10 June 2021, p. 9.
  • 3
    See page 25 of the report.
  • 4
  • 5
    Professor Joellen Riley Munton, Faculty of Law, University of Technology, Sydney, Proof Committee Hansard, 12 April 2021, p. 50.
  • 6
    Uber, Submission 19, p. 6.
  • 7
    Mr Michael Kaine, National Secretary, Transport Workers Union (TWU), Proof Committee Hansard, 12 April 2021, p. 7.
  • 8
    Uber, Submission 19, p. 4.
  • 9
    Mr Ryan Bachelor, Executive Director, McKell Institute Victoria, Proof Committee Hansard, 19 April 2021, pp. 54–55.

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