Gig economy workers fear for their safety

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Wednesday, 3 August, 2022 - 12:30
Industry news
National News

Many workers in the gig economy are looking for alternative and more secure employment arrangements due to fears for their safety and wellbeing, low pay and feelings of isolation, according to University of Melbourne research.

The study included in-depth interviews with 90 people and found complex, unaddressed issues, including deep dissatisfaction with the existing gig economy model from both workers and consumers.

“Many workers and consumers are growing tired of the gig economy and are not passively accepting how things are. Our interviewees showcase a range of complex emotions, but many have become profoundly disaffected,” said the University of Melbourne’s Associate Professor David Bissell, who is the project lead on the five-year study Gig Cities.

Research team member Dr Elizabeth Straughan said the team interviewed both workers and employers to explore the positive and negative aspects of gig work platforms.

“Though some workers appreciate the flexibility to earn some top-up income, many are looking for ways out owing to dissatisfaction with low pay, fears for their personal safety and wellbeing, feelings of isolation, and a lack of viable career pathway,” Dr Straughan said.

“On the other hand, although consumers have at times enjoyed the convenience of these on-demand platforms, our findings show that consumers actively grapple with the tricky and inequitable politics of the gig economy when making decisions about using these services.”

The report recommends that governments regulate platform companies more tightly to ensure pay and conditions for workers are improved by recognising them as employees.

The research comes off the back of recent moves by multiple state governments to improve safety for gig economy workers – particularly those who use food delivery platforms.

New laws recently came into effect in NSW which require food delivery riders to be supplied with high-visibility personal protective equipment by food delivery platforms.

“Food delivery booking providers must supply their delivery riders with high-visibility personal protective equipment, including a retroreflective outer clothing item and a bag or container for safely transporting food or drink that comply with the relevant Australian Standard,” said NSW Minister for Fair Trading Eleni Petinos.

“These reforms are ultimately about keeping riders, who are among some of our most at-risk road users, safer on our roads.

“While there has been a decline in rider incidents in the past 12 months, there is still a need for stronger sanctions to prevent incidents from occurring,” Minister Petinos said.

Recent statistics published by SafeWork NSW found there were 45 incidents involving food delivery riders from 1 April 2021 to 31 March 2022, of which 56 per cent involved motorbikes, 29 per cent involved e-Bikes and 7.5 per cent involved bicycles.

The average injured food delivery rider was an 18-36-year-old male, and most incidents occurred from Monday to Sunday with the majority of riders injured between 12pm to 8pm.

It was also reported recently that the NSW Coroners Court is considering a coronial inquest that would investigate safety standards in the gig economy following the deaths of four food delivery riders.

Three of the riders worked for Uber Eats and a fourth rider worked for Hungry Panda, and all were killed in road accidents while working in Sydney in late 2020.

The potential judicial review comes after an overhaul of safety standards in the industry, with new regulations introduced by the governments of NSW and Victoria after unions and politicians in the federal opposition pushed for changes to laws around the gig economy.