gig economy

"Old fashions please me best; I am not so nice To change true rules for odd inventions."

William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, 1593.

On May 21 Australian Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt introduced a small but potentially significant private member's bill into the House of Representatives.

The Transport Workers’ Union joined the ACTU, Victorian Trades Hall and Unions NSW on January 31 to launch a campaign for the rights of food delivery riders.

The campaign called for urgent regulation of the industry after a survey showed three quarters of food delivery riders are paid below the minimum award wage and have no sick leave.

Anyone who had the pleasure of hearing Jon Faine’s dismemberment of the gig economy, as represented by the hapless Brent Thomas, Head of Public Policy at Airbnb ANZ, on ABC Radio last year will never forget it.  

It was excruciating. You could hear the air going out of poor old Brent when Faine pressed him on how much tax Airbnb actually pays in Australia, and pressed him and pressed him. 

As if it were wrapped in flammable polyethelene (PE) cladding, Uber’s seemingly unstoppable plan for world domination caught fire in London last month; and the blaze might be as hard to extinguish as the inferno that engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower in the same city in June.

The deadly fire at Grenfell, and Uber’s repeated failings — in terms of vehicle safety, sexual assault, regulatory avoidance and driver exploitation — are both the direct result of under-regulation and multi-layered regulatory and policy failure.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating loved this quote of his long-time mentor former NSW Premier Jack Lang. I was reminded of its currency and utility recently, when I read that the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia (ASFA) had made an (overdue) entrance to the public debate about the costs and benefits of the emerging “gig” economy — let’s be honest, it’s mainly costs.

Shakespeare reckoned that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Old Will is right of course, because whether you call it rhubarb, a rhododendron or a rocking horse, a rose is a rose.

Sometimes though, if enough people use the new name of an old thing often enough, they can convince themselves and others that it is in fact a different thing. Then, having transformed the thing semantically, we can consider it a new thing, and treat it as a new thing. This is nothing new. It is marketing and corporate branding 101 and it does not matter most of the time.

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