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Turning ‘gigs’ into decent jobs: Submission to Inquiry into the Victorian On-Demand Workforce

This submission will present evidence from several different strands of research undertaken by our Centre over the past three years, all of which touch in different ways on the challenges and opportunities associated with on-demand or “gig” work. We cast doubt on the common assumption that this way of organising work is essentially novel or innovative, and is being facilitated primarily by advances in digital technology; to the contrary, we point to long historical antecedents for the contingent employment practices which underpin the business models of most digital platform companies. We argue that while the current extent of ondemand work is relatively small in the context of Australia’s overall labour market, if unchecked (through appropriate regulations and safeguards) these practices could spread into other industries and occupations – including public services. The current application of Australian labour laws has, to date, allowed most digital platform firms to avoid the normal obligations and costs associated with employing workers. This has provided businesses which rely on gig labour with an unjustified competitive advantage relative to their competitors who utilise conventional employment practices; it thus puts downward pressure on compensation and working conditions for workers in all firms (both new digital businesses and more conventional firms). Another source of concern regarding on-demand work is the extent to which these businesses (and others) are misusing digital surveillance and evaluation technologies to monitor, discipline and even discharge workers. These practices raise serious concerns regarding dignity, privacy and fair process for workers. Our submission concludes by highlighting several policy options to better regulate the practices and conditions of ondemand work, and improve the well-being of those working in these positions. Some policy responses to the rise of on-demand work lie beyond the scope of state-level legislative and regulatory capacities; we discuss them anyway, in order to fully describe the challenges involved in regulating on-demand work and gigs. But we also include several policy recommendations that fall well within the traditional realm of state-based policy-making.