Information Digest – August 2023

The Gig economy so far has a small section of the workforce, but employers are reducing workers’ rights and attempting to take more control of workers’ time, via control of work through apps, while denying the employment status of those they hold the purse strings for, sets precedents that many other employers can and do follow.

The rise in corporate profits driving inflation, the reduction in people’s spending power, rising stress and burnout, and how this is very much a gender issue as the areas of care are strongly female areas of employment are all subjects in this month’s Workers Digest from Unions NSW.

There is some good news, with union density rising in the UK, the development of environmental bargaining models in Australia, and a pathway for the Hunter region with the public sector at the core of future sustainable development.


We need more than a definition change to fix Australia’s culture of permanent ‘casual’ work

David Peetz

“The surprising thing about the Albanese government’s announced reforms to “casual” employment is not that they’re happening. It’s that employer advocates are getting so excited about them, despite the small number of people they will affect and the small impact they will have.

That’s not to say the changes aren’t needed. Rather, true reform of the “casual” employment system, of which this is just a first but important step, has a lot further to go to resolve the “casual problem”.

David Peetz queries how much will really change with current government plans for casual workers.

“…more needs to be done. …In most other wealthy countries all workers – including temporary workers – are entitled to annual leave. That’s not the case in Australia, because of the “casual” ruse. These laws will not change that.

There should be a universal leave entitlements. Sure, there needs to be a loading where work is unpredictable, and hence so short-term that leave entitlements would not be practical.

But everyone else should get annual and sick leave, and minimum award wages should be high enough that low-wage workers don’t have to rely on the casual loading to get by.

The challenge should be about how we transition to that situation.”

Read the full article

Employers will resist, but the changes for casual workers are about accepting reality

John Buchanan

The Albanese government’s plan to improve the pathway to permanency for casual workers has employers worried, fearful their ability to employ casual workers will be restricted.

In two cases in 2018 and 2020, the Federal Court agreed a worker’s employment status should based on the reality of their long-term employment relationship. That is, if there was continuity, based on extended, regular patterns of employment, a worker was a permanent employee. Similar principles applied to those deemed contractors.

However, appeals to the High Court in 2021 and in 2022 overturned these rulings. For the High Court, a formal stipulation of relations written in a contract were all that counted. The reality of life on the job was irrelevant.

Common law versus parliament

The High Court’s decisions – that formal freedom of contract has to be respected irrespective of the realities of bargaining power – reflect a long struggle between the common law and parliament in matters concerning working life.

In the 1700s and 1800s, workers were jailed for meeting to discuss wage campaigns. To this day, commercial common law considers the principle of “freedom of contract” as the foundation for all commercial relations – including those involving employment. Union activity is an illegal restraint of trade.

These principles have never been changed in the courts. It is only by statute (legislation passed by parliament) that trade unions and collective action by workers has been allowed.

Read the full article

Coles’ Uber Eats deal brings the gig economy inside the traditional workplace

Lauren Kate Kelly

Coles announced a major new partnership with Uber Eats that will further expand the supermarket giant’s links with the gig economy. Under the arrangement, Uber Eats drivers will not only complete home delivery for the supermarket, drivers will also pick and pack orders from supermarket shelves.

Previously, online orders were completed by Coles directly employed “personal shoppers” who would hand over the order to a delivery partner. More than 500 Coles stores across the country will start selling goods via the digital platform, with gig workers performing the role of a Coles personal shopper.

The new partnership was announced just days after grocery delivery startup Milkrun officially folded.

With much less fanfare, both Coles and Woolworths have achieved what startups couldn’t. Their advantage has been their enormous scale and market power.

The cost of this convenience will be carried by supermarket workers, who in recent years have already seen their work transformed to adhere to the logic of the gig economy, with on-demand time pressures and ad-hoc scheduling. Now, as the gig economy moves into the physical supermarket space, the distinction between conventional employment and gig work is further blurred.

Read more here.

The TWU have signed a standards charter with Uber and another standard with Coles regarding supply chain issues but it is not clear from statements that this covers instore work.

Read more here.

When the app turns you into a robo-scab

Cory Doctorow

When we talk about the abusive nature of gig work, there’s some obvious targets, like algorithmic wage discrimination, where two workers are paid different rates for the same job, in order to trick occasional gig-workers to give up their other sources of income and become entirely dependent on the app.

Then there’s the opacity – imagine if your boss refused to tell you how much you’ll get paid for a job until after you’ve completed it, claimed that this was done in order to “protect privacy” – and then threatened anyone who helped you figure out the true wage on offer.

hen workers seize the means of computation, amazing things happen. In Indonesia, gig workers create and trade tuyul apps that let them unilaterally modify the way that their bosses’ systems see them.

Read the full article

NDIS workforce

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) workforce has an average annual turnover rate of 17-25%, which is notably high compared to other similar sectors and across the workforce as a whole. BETA partnered with the Department of Social Services to investigate why turnover in the NDIS workforce is high and to design interventions to increase worker retention.

For the first stage of the research, BETA undertook a literature review and surveyed 768 NDIS workers, to understand what predicts intentions to leave the NDIS workforce. The survey found that high levels of burnout and low levels of job engagement are significantly associated with greater intentions to leave the NDIS workforce. Key findings from the diagnostic survey will inform stage two of the project.

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Southern California Hotel Workers Are on Strike Against Automated Management

Alex N. Press

On top of issues like low pay, workers are up against faceless algorithmic management that can punish them for various offenses — including for refusing to cross picket lines. Workers at a hotel in Southern California are on strike against this practice.

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What explains the increase in trade union density and female share of union members in the United Kingdom in 2017–2020?

Richad Harris and John Moffat

Trade union density increased for three consecutive years in the United Kingdom between 2017 and 2020. This contrasts with a general decline in union membership since 1979. Since union density continued to fall amongst male employees in 2017–2020, the overall increase was entirely attributable to females. …the principal driver of the overall rise in 2017–2020 was an increase in the proportion of employment in certain public sector organisations. The largest contributor to the difference across males and females was increases in the share of employment in more unionised occupations amongst female employees and decreases amongst male employees.

Journal of Industrial Relations. Volume 65, Issue 3, June 2023, Pages 321-347.

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Legal obstacles and possibilities for environmental bargaining in Australia

Eugene Schofield-Georgeson

This article investigates the legality of environmental bargaining in Australia. It demonstrates that existing enterprise bargaining law mostly prevents meaningful and enforceable bargaining regarding environmental issues. Proposed here instead is that more impactful possibilities for environmental bargaining exist under state Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws. In this respect, the article engages with some of the latest legal developments within the field of WHS that may enable environmental bargaining on the terms recommended by the environmental labour studies literature.

Journal of Industrial Relations. Volume 65, Issue 3, June 2023.

This article has restricted access. If you would like to gain access please contact

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Unacceptable Risks: The Dangers of Gig Models of Care and Support Work

Fiona Macdonald

The gigification of care is creating insecure work, undermining gender inequality and damaging workforce sustainability.

New research from the Centre for Future Work reveals the unacceptable risks of digital labour platforms and the expansion of gig work in low-paid feminised care and support workforces. Risks are to frontline care and support workers, people receiving care and support and to workforce sustainability.

The report calls for comprehensive industrial reforms to address gig work as part of broader workforce strategies for the NDIS and aged care sectors.

Care and support ‘gig’ workers, treated as independent contractors, are in highly insecure work without minimum standards and effective rights to collective bargaining.

Read the full report

Minimum wages and inflation

Greg Jericho and Jim Stanford

Research from the Centre for Future Work at the Australia Institute has revealed how rises in the minimum wage have almost no impact on inflation and given the collapse in the value of the minimum wage in real terms over the past 2 years, a 7% increase is a necessary recompense for Australia’s lowest paid workers.

Greg Jericho and Jim Stanford show that minimum wage increases over the past 25 years have had little to no impact on inflation at all. They demonstrate that a 1% increase in the minimum wage and all Modern Award wages – even if completely passed through into higher prices – would result in a virtually undetectable 0.06% increase in economy-wide prices. So small is this that a mere 0.2% fall in profits would be enough to cancel any impact on prices at all.

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Public Services in the Hunter: An Engine of Economic and Social Prosperity

Jim Stanford

The provision of essential public services generates extraordinary and far-reaching economic and social benefits for the Hunter region.

State-funded programs account for the lion’s share of public service jobs in the Hunter region: over 80% in total (in health care, education, state government, transport, first responders, social services, and more). That means a strong and stable commitment by state government to funding these services will be essential for the Hunter to continue reaping these economic and social benefits.

Fact sheets by Jim Stanford, commissioned by Hunter Workers.

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