Norton Rose Fulbright Australia’s Employment and Labour team has collaborated with our global counterparts to prepare a guide on the status of gig workers across various jurisdictions. The guide is available here.
Employment and labour practitioners in each jurisdiction have set out the current employment status at law of gig workers, before explaining the grey areas and possible future developments.
The guide is timely in the wake of the widespread economic and employment disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Prime Minister instigated an industrial relations reform working group process earlier this year, attended by employers, unions, industry groups and government. On 7 December 2020, the Attorney-General announced the introduction of a swathe of proposed industrial relations reforms following this process. A notable omission has been the consideration of the status of gig workers and the general implications in an industrial context of the broader and growing gig economy.
An opportunity for potential reform has been missed, particularly given the ongoing debate in academic circles regarding the proper characterisation of the employment relationship of gig workers and the potential challenges faced by Australian courts in characterising a gig worker as an employee or independent contractor (the only two options available). To date, Australian courts have held that the better view is that gig workers are independent contractors, rather than employees. However, judicial opinions have indicated that there are ambiguities.
This is arguably a missed opportunity for the Commonwealth, in circumstances where some State jurisdictions are taking their own steps towards reform. The inquiries and committees convened to address these issues by the States have disparate priorities and focuses. The consequence may be continuing ambiguity for all stakeholders.
The global guide on the employment status of gig workers provides an opportunity for direct comparison and provides insight into areas of future reform and development in Australia.
Thank you Jessica Alesci-Pettitt for contributing to this article.