Food delivery drivers have pleaded for better conditions and more transparency about how apps like Uber Eats penalise them for late orders, with Labor leader Anthony Albanese urging the federal government to negotiate directly with the companies for a better deal.
“Riders like us feel helpless,” delivery driver James Yang said in Parliament House on Thursday.
“I’m pretty angry at those types of companies. I hope that the community will support our riders and give us a fair treatment.”
The Opposition has made fairer conditions for those in insecure work, like ‘gig economy’ workers in rideshare and delivery services, a key plank of its industrial relations platform.
Mr Albanese and Labor’s IR spokesman Tony Burke peppered Prime Minister Scott Morrison through Question Time this week over whether such workers should be entitled to the federal minimum wage – which they are not, because they’re classed as contractors.
Mr Morrison and IR Minister Christian Porter have rebuffed questions on the topic.
Mr Porter said Labor’s proposals to extend basic conditions like the minimum wage to gig economy workers would be tricky, calling the discussion “very complicated issues that simply don’t lend themselves to some simple formulation”.
But on Thursday, the Transport Workers Union brought a peloton of delivery riders to Parliament, giving gig workers a chance to directly tell their stories of low pay, poor conditions and fear of injury or death.
At least five delivery drivers have been killed in recent months in Australia. A common complaint is that the apps impose unreasonable time limits on deliveries, forcing workers to travel fast and take unnecessary risks to meet demands – or face being cut off from the service completely.
“I wish there was a law to protect riders, that we have insurance and certain conditions,” Mr Yang said, through an interpreter.
“I really hope there would be a certain protection for workers like me.”
Mr Burke said gig economy drivers have told him that “the only way to keep your job and not get bounced off by the algorithm is to run red lights” or take risks in weaving through traffic.
Foolishly @HungryPanda15 thought by sacking delivery rider James who went on strike over cuts to pay that they were silencing him. Here he is today along with @albomp and @Tony_Burke explaining why he is fighting for his rights and those of his fellow riders #Rights4Riders pic.twitter.com/fvwqFsHOg9
— TWU Australia (@TWUAus) February 25, 2021
Other drivers spoke of “sitting in a park earning zero dollars an hour” waiting for orders, as an argument in favour of a minimum wage of some kind.
As contractors, drivers are only paid per delivery made – not for the time between clocking on and clocking off the app.
Ashley Moreland has worked for delivery apps for several years. He spoke of how drivers often have no idea how the apps decide how long a delivery is allowed to take, or how they will be penalised if they miss a target – saying “the algorithm” behind services like Uber Eats or Deliveroo should be open to more scrutiny.
“There’s a lot of pressure to make these deliveries or else you’re told you’ll get excommunicated from these platforms in the form of threatening emails where they say, ‘You were X minutes late for such-and-such delivery’,” Mr Moreland said.
“That’s the issue really at the heart of this is there’s no mechanism of discussion or feedback that you’d normally expect with a relationship of work.”
He said he and other drivers were often injured on the job, forced to work faster to meet demands.
“There’s an awful lot of bullying that goes on that is effectively done by the algorithm, as if there’s no person taking responsibility for it … if you’re even a few minutes late now, accounts are getting flagged. And there’s only two or so warnings of that,” Mr Moreland claimed.
“It is not done with any proper form of communication where there’s recourse for explanation given like traffic lights or the realities of real life. And you can be terminated with no real contact at all and no forewarning.”
With the government saying regulation of such companies may be too difficult, Mr Albanese raised the News Media Bargaining Code regulating Facebook and Google as a recent example of how Australia had forced rules on tech giants.
“The government has a responsibility,” Mr Albanese said.
“[Treasurer] Josh Frydenberg got onto Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook. Why isn’t the government prepared to negotiate on behalf of these people?”