Uber drivers and other gig workers to get new rights under bill introduced by Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke
Uber drivers and other gig workers will get new rights under a bill introduced by Employment and Work Relations Secretary Tony Burke
Bosses could soon be prosecuted as thieves if they underpay workers under the proposed new laws.
Employment and Work Relations Secretary Tony Burke is introducing a bill next week that will make wage theft a crime and give gig economy workers, including Uber Eats delivery drivers, the right to sick leave, annual leave and minimum wages.
The Labor Secretary compared the underpayment of gig workers to slavery and admitted it could drive up pizza prices during a cost-of-living crisis.
“It is and should be a criminal offense for the employee to take money from the till, but it is not a criminal offense in most of Australia for the employer to take money from wages,” he told the National Press Club on Thursday. .
This loophole needs to be closed.
“Take any store, for example: the employer and the employee both have access to each other’s money.”
Employment and Work Relations Secretary Tony Burke is introducing a bill next week that would make wage theft a crime
But Burke admitted that most of the underpayments happened accidentally, given the complexity of some industry rewards.
“Most underpayments are not wage theft,” he said.
“Most underpayments are a mistake. Sometimes there can be recklessness and the like, but often there is just an honest mistake and we do not want to prosecute it.
“But if someone has the same intention as the worker when he takes money from the cash register, criminal law must also be available there.”
The Labor government bill will give gig economy workers, such as Uber drivers and Uber Eats delivery drivers, the same rights as company employees.
That means they would be entitled to sick leave, annual leave and a minimum wage, which they are denied under existing regulations because they are classified as independent contractors.
These benefits would also be extended to long-term temporary workers under Labour’s plan.
Mr Burke defended the lengthening of terms of employment when asked if it could push up consumer prices, while inflation is still on the high side at 4.9 per cent.
“Slavery is also probably cheaper,” he said.
“We are talking about some of the lowest paid people in Australia.
“If that means paying a little bit extra when your pizza arrives at your doorstep, and they’re more likely to be on their way safely, then I think it’s a pretty small price to pay.”
The Fair Work Commission would be empowered under the Labor bill to set minimum standards for workers who resemble workers in the gig economy.
The Closing Loopholes Bill is being introduced to address poor workplace conditions, which have killed 13 gig economy workers on Australian roads in recent years.
But Mr Burke suggested that people like carpenters and plumbers, who work as independent contractors on construction sites, should not be forced to become employees.
“We don’t try to turn people into employees if they don’t want to be employees,” he said.
The Labor government bill will also give gig economy workers, such as Uber Eats delivery drivers (such as those pictured in Sydney), the same rights as company employees rather than as independent contractors.
This means that gig economy workers can continue to be treated like contractors if they choose.
“A lot of gig workers appreciate the flexibility of using this technology and that won’t change under our laws,” he said.
“But the fact that someone works in the gig economy should not mean that he or she ends up being paid less than if they had been an employee.”
Labor has already revived multi-employer negotiations, with wage increases in one workplace replicated in similar workplaces.
Mr Burke has criticized the company bargaining system, which was designed to contain wage increases in individual workplaces, even though the government of former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating introduced this policy 30 years ago.