Disruptive tech companies killing off workers’ rights, says union


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.


  1. It’s interesting. Uber operates as a ride sharing service. But it doesn’t enforce people to drive as far as I am aware. It simply puts a contract up and allows someone to take it.

    Am I correct in that thought?

    What responsibility does Uber have if the “driver” chooses not to drive? Or Chooses to treat it like a full time job?

    Clearly they need to respect local safety standards. If there are fatigue laws that state that someone cannot operate for x period of time, then they need to address that. There would be simple technical solutions to enforce this.

    • The individual driver has the choice whether to take a fare or not.

      “What responsibility does Uber have if the “driver” chooses not to drive?”
      They have the responsibility to advertise the fare to other drivers and that’s it, I would think.

      Certainly if a driver takes a fare and then cancels before pickup, Uber doesn’t give a crap – they don’t provide for feedback or even schedule another driver in that instance.

    • Fatigue monitoring and the likes actually quite complicated (ie the transport industry and truck drivers) its one of those things that looks simple on paper but gets complicated really quickly.

      I imagine there would be a penalty for reneging on a contract as an Uber driver much in the same way there is for the person wanting a ride and cancelling last minute etc.

      Issue here is that Uber is employing ‘casual only employees’ aka contractors to fill what is essentially full/part time roles I guess and at the same time not paying the casual rates they should be due to the lost benefits.

      • Uber operates on a rating system I believe. Both the driver and the passenger can be rated, so drivers that screw people around wont last long.

        I don’t think the fatigue mentioned in the article was referring to the Uber drivers, but for the taxi drivers who are making up the lost 20% income.

        • You are right, they were talking about the traditional drivers.

          But fatigue IS an interesting issue.

          If someone is basically using their car as a taxi service via uber, then how are the individual’s held accountable for safety etc?

          Another reason they need to fix the broken system, and make it work properly for ride sharing.

          If they removed the artificial license costs, the traditional taxi’s could reduce their prices to compete with Uber. There are many people who would take an “official taxi” over an uber ride share, for a variety of reasons. Especially if the prices were comparable.

          It would allow the traditional taxi companies to start to compete, and also force them to start “improving” in the areas that Uber is ahead on.

          As for the technology. Uber could simply apply limits whereby uber fares could not be taken by an individual if they had met some sort of threshold. Obviously people will game it. But people will game anything. So long as the majority are covered properly, and reasonable effort made to prevent gaming the system, that should be acceptable.

  2. ” the traditional taxi’s could reduce their prices to compete with Uber. ”

    Price has very little to do with why most people don’t catch taxis (in my experience). As per #yourtaxis, the problems run much deeper than price and demonstrate a group that has willfully ignored serious complaints by customers for many years, simply because there was no choice.

    A taxi could be half the price of an Uber and I still wouldn’t touch it, because it would be overpriced for the service you receive 9 times out of 10.

  3. There was a article on this subject on linkedin recently basically saying we a new class of employee.
    Proposing something in between a contractor and employee. Taking Uber as an example, Uber would end up with some of the obligation of an employer (like insurance) but be able to pay there employees based on tasks completed. Right now if it got challenged I think Uber would have a hard time proving their drivers are contractors and not employees.

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