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digital economy

Unions seek protections for digital economy workers

Being a “digital economy” worker may sound cutting edge. 

But in fact, unions say, the conditions under which many such workers perform their tasks represent a throwback to the industrial Dark Ages. 

And they are targeting one such company, Airtasker, for the introduction of “Dickensian” work practices wrapped up in “a cloak of innovation and progress”. 

Airtasker provides a job-posting service that allows potential workers to take up job offers over a digital platform – for a 15% cut of the workers’ hourly rate. 

That leaves the workers earning less than the legislated minimum, according to Unions NSW, the peak union body in that state.

For instance that if job posters follow the price guide issued by Airtasker in 2014, then they will pay $17 an hour for workers performing data entry.  However, the workers will receive only $14.45 an hour after the company takes its 15% cut, well below the award rate of $23.54.

Similarly the recommended rate for cleaners of $20 becomes $17 after Airtasker's commission, whereas the award rate is $23.64.

And by claiming job seekers are “independent contractors” Airtasker also sidesteps mandatory employee entitlements, including workers compensation insurance, superannuation and a casual loading payment in exchange for the lack of sick leave and annual leave entitlements.

A report commissioned by Unions NSW says that the Airtasker work model “is neither innovative nor is it removing traditional barriers to efficiency" and represents an attempt to undo “over 150 years of agitation by workers and unions who struggled to eradicate this form of labour exploitation and replace it with civilised employment relationships."

Unions are threatening a class action against Airtasker and companies using similar structures if they refuse to enter into negotiations that will at least ensure minimum wage requirements are met.

Source: Workplace Express Monday, September 19, 2016.

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