Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


The thin veneer of the gig economy

  • 27 April 2021
For millions of Australians, the gig economy has brought greater convenience to our everyday lives. At any given moment, in metropolitan cities you can order that late night burger without even moving from the comfort of your own couch or secure a lift home with the click of a button. It’s a new era of what we want, whenever we want it with products and services delivered to us directly.

However, behind the slick advertising and high-tech veneer of on demand apps and services lies a bleak, hazardous and often dangerous reality: tens of thousands of people working at the fringe of the labour market as delivery riders and personal chauffeurs. When you remove all the tech, the sizzle and pop, it’s little more than modern day iteration of old-school precarious piece work arrangements.

To set the context, on a good night a delivery rider might, if lucky, earn somewhere close to the minimum wage, without accruing any employment entitlements. A 2020 report for the Victorian Government, Report of the Inquiry into the Victorian On-Demand Workforce, found that these workers are most likely to come from ‘vulnerable cohorts’ within our community: young people, students and migrants, often forced into ‘gig’ jobs as a last resort.

The COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns saw a surge in demand for these services and thousands of vulnerable workers found themselves thrown onto the frontline of the latest battle in the war for fair wages, safe working conditions and job security for Australia. 

But in some recent positive news, major food delivery service Menulog announced to a Senate inquiry recently that they at least agreed that gig economy workers are just that — workers — and the firm’s CEO Morten Belling announced that they would trial employing riders in Sydney’s CBD directly rather than treating them as sub-contractors.

Menulog was under pressure from riders, drivers, their union, as well as investors and regulators. They appear to have seen the writing on the wall and this pilot will extend minimum wage and superannuation rights to food delivery riders, and represents a break with other big gig economy firms like Uber and Deliveroo that refuse to treat workers as employees.

"Gig economy firms like to frame these developments as ‘innovations’ that ‘disrupt’ complacent market incumbents. The reality is that these ‘innovations’ can essentially be summarised as a set of new mechanisms to bypass existing labour regulations."

It’s a move that represents a small but