Australian gig workers will be able to negotiate for minimum pay and conditions under a new law to be introduced next week in parliament by the centre-left Labor government.
The law will define “employee-like workers” in the gig economy, a catch-all term including those who deliver food or drive for apps like Uber or DoorDash.
Australia’s industrial umpire will then be empowered to set standards around pay, hours and insurance.
However, the umpire will have discretion to vary standards between workplaces and the laws will not mandate uniform pay or conditions.
Employment Minister Tony Burke agreed with critics who say the rules will add complexity or raise costs but said Australia needed rules to protect vulnerable workers and slightly higher prices were an acceptable trade-off.
“If we’re going to be a nation where you don’t have to rely on tips to make ends meet then there needs to be some extra regulation,” Burke said in a speech in Canberra.
“We are talking about some of the lowest paid people in Australia and if that means there’s a tiny bit extra you pay when your pizza arrives to your door and they’re more likely to be safe on the roads getting there then I reckon it’s a pretty small price to pay.”
The issue of how to qualify the legal status of gig economy workers is being debated in many countries. EU countries in June agreed draft rules to govern whether platform employers will need to provide employee benefits.
The public response from employers on Thursday was mixed, with Uber saying it supported the push for gig economy minimum standards that also protected flexibility, while the head of Australia’s business lobby group said the legislation would hurt workers and consumers and should not be passed.
“We welcome the minister confirming his commitment to protect the flexibility gig workers rely on and value, an Uber spokesperson said in a statement. “We will continue to work constructively with the government as they progress the bill.”
In a nod to critics, some conditions will remain outside the umpire’s remit, including overtime rates or rosters.
If passed, the “Closing Loopholes Bill” will come into force on July 1, 2024.