November 13, 2020
Amid ongoing legal battles over whether Australian Uber and Deliveroo drivers are employees, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) issued a class exemption permitting gig workers to engage in collective bargaining without fear of violating competition laws.
Like many countries, Australia is currently wrestling with how to handle gig and platform workers who are increasingly seeking more social and employee benefits. As in the U.S., gig workers in Australia are considered independent contractors and thus are not eligible for benefits such as minimum wage, sick leave, etc.
The new exemption will cover more than 98% of Australian businesses, including Uber and Deliveroo drivers, according to the ACCC. As noted, the new exemption will provide gig workers with the ability to engage in collective bargaining. Theoretically, this could enable gig workers to collectively bargain for additional benefits, such as sick leave or better wage sharing between drivers and the company.
The move is “unlikely to substantially lessen competition or is likely to result in a net public benefit,” the ACCC determined.
The perspective that collective bargaining by gig workers is a public benefit is a notable shift that is slowly being mirrored in jurisdictions worldwide. "Aside from making it easier to bargain it's also really significant in terms of the ACCC itself,” said University of Sydney law professor Shae McCrystal. “This is a competition regulator that has made a decision that collective bargaining by small business groups, including the self-employed, is a public benefit."
Notably, however, the proposal does not permit gig workers to conduct boycotts and only permits information sharing when “reasonably necessary.” Furthermore, according to reporting by Australia’s Financial Review, Mr. Michael Kaine, National Secretary of Australia’s Transport Workers Union, characterized the changes as “tinkering around the edges” of the problems faced by gig workers. Mr. Kaine also notes there is still nothing preventing companies like Uber from “booting workers” who attempt to engage in collective bargaining.
HR Policy Global Takeaway: Although perhaps minor in tangible impact, ACCC’s move may pave the way for the country taking further steps to provide additional benefits to gig and platform workers.