Uber strikes major deal with Transport Workers Union

July 5, 2022
Photo: Cottonbro/Pexels

Rideshare and delivery company Uber and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) have signed a historic new agreement to protect the flexibility of gig workers and support minimum standards and benefits for workers in the on-demand economy.

This is the first time a platform company in Australia has struck a deal with a union across rideshare and food delivery industries.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said on June 29 that the deal means food delivery and rideshare drivers will have safer, fairer working conditions and dispute procedures. “It sets out a path for the future”, he said, adding he hoped it would bring “some comfort to gig workers who have faced difficulty in the past, as well as the families of those tragically killed while carrying out this work”.

The family of Hungry Panda driver Xiaojun Chen were recently awarded $830,000 compensation after the 43-year-old was killed in Sydney in September 2020. Chen was one of seven food delivery drivers who died on the job that year.

Kaine said the agreement was significant because it gives gig workers more protections. “We’ve got to get past this divide in our legal system which says, if you’re an employee you get all the entitlements built up over decades. But if you’re an independent contractor, even if you’re highly reliant on the company that engages you, all of a sudden, you get none.”

Central to the deal, which took months of discussions, is Uber and the TWU’s support for an independent federal body to create industry-wide standards.

They include: minimum enforceable earnings and benefits/conditions for platform workers based on the principle of cost recovery; an efficient mechanism to resolve disputes, such as deactivation of relevant platform worker accounts; platform workers have the right to join and be represented by a relevant registered organisation whereby they have an effective collective voice; and that these standards and objectives be enforced.

The TWU and Uber have also committed to further discuss the agreed principles with a view to reaching a set of industry standards across the rideshare and delivery industries.

Uber and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), of which the TWU is an affiliate, signed a Memorandum of Understanding in February to discuss working conditions for drivers and couriers globally.

Kaine said the deal is the result of the “years-long campaign led by gig economy workers to modernise out-of-date industrial laws” and that that the debate is now over. “For too long, the balancing of flexibility and the enforcement of strong workplace rights and protections has been seen as a zero-sum game.”

He said the deal also “sends a strong signal to the newly-minted federal government that it must act to deliver gig companies regulatory certainty and extend appropriate safeguards to workers across the gig economy”.

The union signed a similar joint charter with DoorDash in May.

A Senate Select Committee on Job Security reported in March just how rife insecure work is. Menulog CEO told the committee that it was planning a pilot employment program for couriers around Sydney’s CBD. At the same time, Menulog launched a trial of minimum wages and benefits for its couriers.

Ahead of the election Labor promised to update the Fair Work Act to account for the rise of the gig economy, including allowing the Fair Work Commission to set minimum standards for “employee-like” forms of work.

Uber and Doordash appear to be accepting some form of industry self-regulation.

The TWU-Uber agreement also helps the TWU because it implicitly accepts the union’s right to represent gig workers.

Employment lawyer Trent Hancock told the July 1 New Daily the agreement will benefit gig workers because they “very rarely have the ability to organise on a collective basis” and the ability to “unionise to bargain on a collective basis will always give those workers a greater capacity to obtain better standards”.

He said drivers will be paid more, have more leave entitlements and the incoming appeals-resolution mechanism will mean they can raise grievances.

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