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Guarding lives at Jones Beach a challenging gig for these rookies

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Long Island state beaches have about twice as many rookie lifeguards this summer — but rest assured, officials say, not only are many competitive swimming stars, they all have the “jump-into-action” personality that defines first responders.

And many of the new lifeguards have another attribute: They truly love the water.

“When we were quarantined … I really missed it,” Erin Quinlan, 17, of Lynbrook, whose favorite swimming stroke is the butterfly, said on a recent Saturday at Jones Beach State Park.

“It’s such a good summer job,” she said, contrasting her responsibilities and wide-ranging experiences with those of some of her friends working summer jobs in retail. “You always learn something every day.”

Some new lifeguards are following in their parents’ footsteps, including Brian Shtab, 24, of Little Neck, whose father, now retired from the FDNY, was a Jones Beach lifeguard for a quarter of a century.

Now an NYU graduate student in physical therapy, Shtab previously worked as a lifeguard at local pools, where he had a couple of rescues. This athlete, a runner, exemplifies how talent, skill and determination can lead to a spot in one of the nation’s most elite lifeguard corps.

“It’s good to train with people who are better than you,” he said.

The coronavirus prompted state officials to let veteran lifeguards skip this summer if they feared endangering their families or businesses, so just over 70 newcomers who passed an abbreviated test necessitated by the pandemic were hired, for a total of almost 500.

That worrying uncertainty adds to the usual stresses of keeping everyone safe, from the non-swimmers to the overly confident aquanauts.

“Just sitting in the stand, the anxiety — you’re kind of wondering: should I go in, should I not go in,” is how Quinlan described the extra tension caused by the pandemic.

Agreed Shtab: “The scariest thing that’s happened — maybe just in general being more cautious because there is a virus going around,” reflecting on the extra imperative this summer of keeping swimmers from getting into trouble.

Ed Costigan, a veteran lifeguard with decades of experience who trains all the rookies and is a Jones Beach Field 2 captain, noted that as usual, many of them swim at the highest competitive levels at Division 1 or 2 universities. 

This summer, he said, the lifeguards are emphasizing ways of preventing close-encounter rescues more than ever, including pushing a flailing swimmer a buoy if possible.

Costigan said the state has equipped lifeguards with the safeguards they requested, including personal protective equipment, disinfecting wipes, sanitizers and other protections.

Beachgoers are mostly cooperating with antivirus precautions, Shtab said.

“We see a lot of people coming in from the city and Long Island and everyone helps out … with social distancing,” he said.

COVID-19 has reduced beach attendance — parking is limited to half the usual number of vehicles — but not necessarily rescues.

On a recent Friday, seven people were pulled from a rip current in just five minutes, forcing the lifeguards to close the beach for swimming, Costigan said.

While no rookie lifeguards are stationed at the ocean for at least their first year, they see plenty of action at the pools and at Zach’s Bay at Jones Beach.

Just north of the ocean at Jones Beach, Zach’s Bay often appeals to families with young children because the water looks much more placid. But it is also has tides as well as holes in the bottom that can catch toddlers by surprise, he said.

Sometimes, “Non-swimmers don’t even put up a fight. It’s almost like passive drowning.”

And at the ever-popular West Bathhouse pool, non-swimmers can seem utterly fearless.

“They just put all their faith in us,” Costigan said. “You’ll see them jump off the diving board and sink to the bottom.”

After being rescued and asked why they dove in without knowing how to swim, a typical answer, he said, is: “Because you’re here.”

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Gig economy workers demand fair conditions | Guardian News

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James Yang is still angry over the road deaths of five colleagues at work who suffered the same pressure he felt as a food delivery driver.

The Chinese migrant worked for Hungry Panda but says the company booted him off the app after raising concerns about conditions.

Mr Yang earned as little as $12.50 an hour working 12-hour days.

He and fellow gig economy workers met with politicians at federal parliament on Thursday, campaigning for the same rights afforded to other workers.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese believes gig workers should be given the minimum wage and greater scope to access other base employment standards.

He urged the Morrison government to stand up to Uber and Hungry Panda in the same way it took on tech giants over the news media bargaining code.

“What we can’t have is a circumstance whereby we have two industrial relations systems,” Mr Albanese said.

“One that has pay, one that has annual leave, sick leave, one that has conditions that most Australians take for granted, and another whole section of society who are marginalised, who don’t enjoy any minimum wage.”

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said he had a great deal of sympathy for Mr Yang but he’s not going to tell him there’s an easy fix.

He said the Fair Work Commission had consistently ruled gig workers were contractors and not subject to the same conditions as employees.

Mr Porter said media code negotiations with Facebook and Google were years in the making after a consumer watchdog inquiry.

He noted the cost to business of changing the gig model and impact on consumer pricing as key complexities in regulating the sector.

Rideshare driver Malcolm McKenzie said gig workers didn’t have the same avenues to pursue unfair dismissal.

“Drivers face the possibility of termination through the app as a result of a fallacious claim against them, unsubstantiated claim against them,” he said.

Delivery driver Ashley Moreland said he faced losing his job if orders weren’t met on the company’s timeline.

“It really is time that laws caught up to the technology and that we brought some rights to this industry,” he said.

“Because I think it’s a bit of a shame that in a modern developed democracy, we have this situation of third world work.”

Australian Associated Press



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‘We need an economy that works for people’: Albanese pushes gig workers reform

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Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese met with rideshare drivers as part of his push to give these workers better pay and conditions, spruiking “we need an economy that works for people, not people working for an economy”.

“It’s a fundamental difference of where we are as a society and my view is that customers as well would be prepared to acknowledge it’s just not fair if they knew that people were working sometimes for under $10 an hour without any rights whatsoever,” Mr Albanese said.

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Europe kicks off bid to find a route to ‘better’ gig work – TechCrunch

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The European Union has kicked off the first stage of a consultation process involving gig platforms and workers. Regional lawmakers have said they want to improve working conditions for people who provide labor via platforms which EU digital policy chief, Margrethe Vestager, accepted in a speech today can be “poor” and “precarious”.

Yet she also made it clear the Commission’s agenda vis-a-vis the issue of gig work is to find some kind of “balance” between (poor) platform work and, er, good and stable (rights protected) employment.

There’s no detail yet on how exactly regional lawmakers plan to square the circle of giving gig platforms a continued pass on not providing good/stable work — given that their sustainability as businesses (still with only theoretical profits, in many cases) is chain-linked to not shelling out for the full suite of employment rights for the thousands of people they rely upon to be engaged in the sweating toil of delivering their service off the corporate payroll.

But that, presumably, is what the Commission’s consultation process is aimed at figuring out. Baked into the first stage of the process is getting the two sides together to try to hash out what better looks like.

“The platform economy is here to stay — new technologies, new sources of knowledge, new forms of work will shape the world in the years ahead,” said Vestager, segueing into a red-line that there must be no reduction in the rights or the social safety net for platform workers (NB: The word ‘should’ is doing rather a lot of heavy lifting here): “And for all of our work on the digital economy, these new opportunities must not come with different rights. Online just as offline, all people should be protected and allowed to work safely and with dignity.”

“The key issue in our consultations is to find a balance between making the most of the opportunities of the platform economy and ensuring that the social rights of people working in it are the same as in the traditional economy,” she also said, adding: “It is also a matter of a fair competition and level playing field between platforms and traditional companies that have higher labour costs because they are subject to traditional labour laws.”

The Commission’s two-stage consultation process on gig work starts with a consultation of “social partners” on “the need and direction of possible EU action to improve the working conditions in platform work”, as it puts it.

This will be open for at least six weeks. It will involve platforms talking with workers (and/or their representatives) to try to come up with agreement on what ‘better’ looks like in the context of platform working conditions, either to steer the direction of any Commission initiative. Or — else — to kick the legislative can down the road on said initiative if they can come up with stuff they can agree to implement themselves.

The second phase — assuming the “social partners” don’t agree on and implement a way forward themselves — is planned to take place before the summer and will focus on “the content of the initiative”, per Vestager. (Aka: what exactly the EU ends up proposing to square the circle that must be squared.)

The competition component of the gig work conundrum — whereby there’s also the ’employer fairness’ dynamic to consider, given platforms aren’t playing by the same rules as traditional employers so are potentially undercutting rivals who are offering those good and stable jobs — explains why the Commission is launching a competition-focused parallel consultation alongside the social stakeholder chats.

“We will soon start a public consultation on this initiative that has another legal base since it is about competition law and not social policies. This is the reason why we consult differently on the two initiatives,” noted Vestager.

She said this will aim to ensure that EU competition rules “do not stand in the way of collective bargaining for those who need it” — suggesting the Commission is hoping that collective bargaining will form some part of the solution to achieving the sought for (precarious) balance of ‘better’ platform work.

Albeit, a cynical person might predict the end goal of all this solicitation of views will probably be some kind of fudge — that offers the perception of a plug for the platform rights gap without actually disrupting the platform economy which Vestager has sworn is here to say.

Uber for one has scented opportunity in the Commission’s talk of improving “legal clarity” for platforms.

The ride-hailing giant put out a white paper last week in which it lobbied lawmakers to deregulate platform work — pushing for a Prop-22 style outcome in Europe, having succeeded in getting a carve out from tightened employment laws in California.

Expect other platforms to follow with similarly self-serving suggestions aimed at encouraging Europe’s social contract to be retooled at the points where it intersects with their business models. (Last week Uber was accused of intentionally stalling on improving conditions for workers in favor of lobbying for deregulation, for example.)

The start of the Commission’s gig work consultation come hard on heels of a landmark ruling by the UK’s Supreme Court (also last week) — which dismissed Uber’s final appeal against a long running employment tribunal.

The judges cemented the view that the group of drivers who sued Uber had indeed been erroneously classified as ‘self employed’, making Uber liable to pay compensation for the rights it should have been funding all along.

So if the EU ends up offering a lower level of employment rights to platform workers vis-a-vis the (post-brexit) UK that would surely make for some uncomfortable faces in Brussels.

While it may be unrealistic to talk about striking a ‘balance’ in the context of business models that are inherently imbalanced, given they’re based on dodging existing employment regulations and disrupting the usual social playbook for profit, he Commission seems to think that a consultation process and a network of overlapping regulations is the way to rein in the worst excesses of the gig economy/big tech more generally.

In a press release about the consultation, it notes that platform work is “developing rapidly” across various business sectors in the region.

“It can offer increased flexibility, job opportunities and additional revenue, including for people who might find it more difficult to enter the traditional labour market,” it writes, starting with some of the positives that are, pesumably, feeding its desire for a ‘balanced’ outcome.

“However, certain types of platform work are also associated with precarious working conditions, reflected in the lack of transparency and predictability of contractual arrangements, health and safety challenges, and insufficient access to social protection. Additional challenges related to platform work include its cross-border dimension and the issue of algorithmic management.”

It also notes the role of the coronavirus pandemic in both accelerating uptake of platform work and increasing concern about the “vulnerable situation” of gig workers — who may have to choose between earning money and risking their health (and the health of other people) via working and thus potential viral exposure.

The Commission reports that around 11% of the EU workforce (some 24 million people) say they have already provided services through a platform.

Vestager said most of these people “only have platform work as a secondary or a marginal source of income” — but added that some three million people do it as a main job.

And just imagine the cost to gig platforms if those three million people had to be put on the payroll in Europe…

In the bit of her speech leading up to her conclusion that platform work is here to stay, Vestager quoted a recent study she said had indicated that 35% to 55% of consumers say they intend to continue to ask for home delivery more in the future.

“We… see that the platform economy is growing rapidly,” she added. “Worldwide, the online labour platform market has grown by 30% over a period of 2 years. This growth is expected to continue and the number of people working through platforms is expected to become more significant in the years ahead.”

“European values are at the heart of our work to shape Europe’s digital future,” she also went on, taking her cue to point to the smorgasbord of digital regulations in the EU’s pipeline — and perhaps illustrating the concept of an overlapping regulatory net that the Commission intends to straightjacket platform giants into more socially acceptable and fair behavior (though it hasn’t yet).

“Our proposals from December for a Digital Services Act and a Digital Markets Act are meant to protect us as consumers if technology poses a risk to fundamental rights. In April we will follow up on our white paper on Artificial Intelligence from last year and our upcoming proposal will also have the aim to protect us as citizens. The fairness aspect and the integration of European values will also be a driver for our upcoming proposal on a digital tax that we plan to present before summer.

“All these initiatives are part of our ambition to balance the great potential that the digital transformation holds for our societies and economies.”

 

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