Jenny Leong on Gig Work

Greens Member for Newtown, Jenny Leong MP has spoken out against the Liberal/National spin claiming a surge in gig work as a result of COVID-19 is a good thing.



Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (16:55:15): Lastweek, with the publication of the latest unemployment figures for New South Wales, we saw the NSW Treasurer quoted in a number of articles attempting to spin the figures into a good news story. In the electorate of Newtown a lot of people are now unemployed and many more are underemployed as a result of this pandemic. It is not acceptable that this LiberalNationals Government is now putting its energy into misrepresenting the true impacts of this crisis rather than implementing immediate measures to address them. At first glance the figures did appear to show that the level of unemployment in our State was not as low as expected but the Treasurer and his team are certainly smart enough to know they need to look closer.

The latest data show that the job growth evident in the top line figures was entirely driven by a surge in non‑employees, that is, self-employed people, owner‑managers, who themselves have no employees and who work in an unincorporated enterprise. In short, that is a surge in gig workers. Let us not beat around the bush. Gig work sucks. By its very nature, it isinsecure work with little to no wage or workplace protections and a completely unequal business model where mega corporations profit from the exploitation of individuals. For almost everyone, gig work is a last resort. The term "gig economy" arose in 2009 at the height of the global financial crisis as many workers lost permanent, fulltime employment and turned to sporadic, casual and freelance work or gigs.

Let us be very clear, a drastic growth in gig economy employment is not a win; it is a failure. For the most part, apps and platforms that facilitate gig work use a cloak of innovation and progress to reintroduce archaic and outdated labour practices, circumventing minimum wage rates and removing employee safety nets. By classifying their workers as independent contractors, these mega corporations absolve themselves of any responsibility for providing access to standard employment entitlements and conditions. Someone always pays for cheap capitalism and that is the riders and the drivers, those who are exploited by this profit-above-all-else business model. These companies shirk their responsibility to pay fair wages and conditions and governments let them get away with it. California has finally taken up the fight to regulate this exploitative industry, and we need to do the same here.

I want to thank and give a shout-out to the Transport Workers Union [TWU] for shedding light on the reality of gig workers in this State, for supporting those forced into this type of work and for advocating strongly for protections. I have seen members of the TWU engaging with delivery drivers bikes along King Street and I give them credit for being committed to organising and building union power for these workers.We can talk all we want about the freedom of working for yourself but that is not what being a gig worker is for the vast majority. Working for yourself is one thing but having no choice and being exploited is an entirely different thing.

Nobody chooses a job where they have no protections, no sick leave, no recreation leave, no superannuation, no set hours, no award rates, no access to workers compensation. Nobody gives up those things willingly. There is no question that COVID has exacerbated existing inequalities in our society. Pushing hundreds of thousands of people into insecure and underpaid work is another example of something that governments need to be taking up. The electorate of Newtown has about double the amount of 20- to 34‑yearolds than other areas in New South Wales. We have a huge number of young people and students, international and domestic, along with new migrants on temporary visas. Those people are the most vulnerable and at risk of exploitation by the gig economy. These are the people who have been most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and are the most likely to have missed out on any government crisis support.

Many international students or people on other temporary visas have had no choice but to rely on getting money as gig workers because governments have failed to do the humane thing and offer financial support to them during this pandemic. Now, as more and more people face the loss of work and are at risk of going into increasing debt, we need to be calling out the neo-liberal spin and demand that this Government take firm action right now to ensure a just society where noone is too poor to be able to live. Securing workers wages and conditions is protecting wages and conditions for everyone in this State. But it is not just about workers' rights. We need to be pushing for universal housing and a basic guarantee of income, addressing systemic racism, prioritising community care and wellbeing and making sure that we act to limit the impacts of the impending climate emergency.

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