“And so, I’d be interested to see what happens post March, and in such a precarious environment, I’d be very wary about any industrial relations changes in general that could increase the costs on small businesses at this point in time.”
Mr Barrie said talk about minimum wages, obscured a more relevant debate to workers, about the excessive cost of renting and buying houses in Australia.
The gig economy is a broad church, but much of the legal and media focus has centred on how to classify and treat workers at ride share and food delivery companies like Uber and Deliveroo.
Ashik Ahmed, the co-founder and chief executive of Deputy, a software system designed to simplify the clocking and registering of shift work, said he views the gig economy as exploitative for workers.
However, while he said he thinks “the spirit” of Labor’s proposal is right, he considers a minimum wage a “bandaid solution”.
“There’s a big difference in gig worker in how something like Airtasker, Freelancer or Envato might be using it, versus how the food delivery businesses like Uber Eats or MenuLog are using them,” Mr Ahmed said.
“Regardless of how you look at it, it’s not necessarily proper work in my opinion. Proper work has a workplace, or a community, you get career development. Many of those things are just missing in the Uber Eats or Deliveroo model.”
Instead, Mr Ahmed said legal reform should focus on creating proper guidelines for an on-demand workforce?“.
“The system is not set up right. It is set up for convenience and flexibility. Convenience for the customer, and flexibility for the worker. But they have over-indexed on those two things, which means it is missing many other things that are important to help the workers get better,” Mr Ahmed said.
Danny Gorog, the founder and chief executive of Snap Send Solve, a mobile app for reporting problems to local councils and businesses, said rather than protecting workers, Labor’s proposal could quash the relatively nascent gig economy altogether.
“The gig economy has been amazing for so many reasons. It gives people who might have lost their job, or been at the end of their career, or be a student and they want the flexibility to work when they want to work, it’s given them unbelievable opportunities to earn an income that they didn’t have before” Mr Gorog said.
“I think if you start regulating industries too quickly by imposing minimum wages, you can stymie the growth, and therefore stymie the potential of the industry to create new industries.
“I think when you have the government coming in over the top going ‘here’s how its got to be’, I think that can drive the wrong outcomes for these pretty early stage companies.”
Mr Gorog, who also invests in start-ups, said new rules could mean companies using on-demand workforces simply fold.
Despite being against the minimum wage proposal, Mr Gorog says improving health and safety standards for workers like delivery drivers was more pressing.
A survey conducted by the Transport Workers Union found that more than one in three delivery drivers has been injured on the job, with the vast majority (80 per cent) receiving no subsequent support from the company they were driving for.
Five delivery drivers have been killed in Australia since the end of September 2020. The New South Wales government set up a taskforce to examine the industry following the deaths.
AirTree Ventures partner John Henderson, whose venture capital fund has invested in marketplace companies that use on demand workforces like Expert360 and snappr, said he believed criticism of gig economy companies was overblown.
“Gig economy companies seem to get disproportionately embroiled in political battles over industrial relations policy. They absolutely have a place in our economy, benefiting both the consumer and the worker alike,” Mr Henderson said.
“As an example, the ability to earn money while commuting is wholly new, and supplementary to traditional employment. That said, no-one wants to see exploitation or the emergence of a sub-class of workers in this country and of course IR policy should protect against that. Innovation and workers’ rights are not mutually exclusive.”
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.”