news The ‘disruptive economy’ being brought about by companies such as Uber is “driving down” workers’ rights, the Transport Workers Union has warned.
“Disruptive tech firms should be forced to work with governments and the community to ensure decent pay and conditions,” TWU National Secretary Tony Sheldon said in a keynote address at a PerCapita event on the Reform Agenda, 11 December.
Sheldon criticised the “uberisation” of jobs whereby companies dictate terms of engagement and ignore rights that go with being part of a civil society, such as sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, retirement with dignity, minimum pay and protections against unfair termination.
He gave the example of a taxi driver, Michael Hatrick, who was first licenced to drive in 1979.
“He knows that the industry has faced its fair share of problems over the years, but Uber is like nothing he’s ever seen. Since it took off in Australia 18 months ago, his income has dropped by 20%,” he said.
There may be safety implications too: “[D]rivers are having to drive longer hours, in some case 7 days a week, to meet the shortfall in income … This means they are more fatigued and more likely to have accidents.”
“Disruptive technology companies need to be good corporate citizens. They need to think through the consequences of their innovations on the labour markets they disrupt, and work with the community and governments to ensure a framework for decent pay, rights and conditions,” Sheldon said.
He stressed the need for a “strong safety net for those displaced by technology” with a basic income, decent pension, healthcare and superannuation.
As technology reduces the need for work in some sectors it is vital that a basic income is provided to working families, he said, warning: “You can’t pay full-time bills with part-time wages or even no wages at all if people lose their jobs.”
Entrepreneur Mark Carnegie has also publicly suggested that Australia should not follow the model of other states where inequality is a major problem. “More equal societies are better for everyone. We need to question going down the road of tearing the social fabric apart as has happened in the US and UK,” he said, in comments quoted by Sheldon.
The union said that, while the Turnbull government has spoken about the exciting times we live in and the potential for innovation, Labor leader Bill Shorten has stressed the importance of ensuring the entire community benefitted, not just tech entrepreneurs.
“Disruption in isolation is no good if it doesn’t benefit society more broadly,” said Sheldon.