Senate debates

Tuesday, 6 October 2020


Workplace Relations

8:57 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to tell the stories of two food delivery workers who lost their lives in Sydney in the past fortnight. These two workers represent a group of workers forgotten by this government. On Sunday 27 September, Dede Fredy died following a cash with a car in Marrickville three days earlier while working for Uber Eats. He leaves behind his wife and family in Indonesia. On 29 September, Xiaojun Chen died in a crash with a bus in Zetland while working for Hungry Panda. He was working in Australia and financially supporting his wife, two children and their grandparents back home in China. He leaves behind his dependent family, now unable to make ends meet without the money that he was sending home. Xiaojun's wife is now urgently seeking a visa to come to Australia to collect the body of her husband and grieve for him. The deaths are tragedies to their families and friends. Their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers and children are now deprived of their loved ones by an industry that looks the other way on safety, cares nothing about the pressure it places on its workers and neglects to fulfil its obligations to them. Too often these deaths are not reported to the relevant agency, as their companies view the drivers as contractors. I, along with the Transport Workers Union, am calling for SafeWork NSW to investigate these cases and the companies involved and to clarify what obligations must be placed on their employers.

For too long, our federal parliament has sat idly by while the future of work has well and truly arrived. No longer the sharing economy—its supporters like to trumpet—this has become the gig or on-demand economy in which workers sit anxiously by an app waiting for the next pay cheque. Just like the Hungry Mile of the Depression, you can walk the busy streets of any commercial area in our capital cities and see tens of people with helmets and bikes queuing and checking their phones, waiting for a job to be given to them. A recent survey of food-delivery riders and drivers found that more than 70 per cent were struggling to pay their bills and pay for groceries. A third of them had been hurt or injured while working, whilst the vast majority receive no support from their employer. Eighty-eight per cent had seen their delivery payments decrease over the time they had worked in the industry. One rider said: 'We are hardly making $10 an hour. Please help us.'

The coalition has sought too long to ignore the problems of the gig economy and simply hope to reap the benefits. These politicians have championed innovation while ignoring the growing electronic hungry mile of many desperate workers, working too many hours for too little pay, putting their safety at risk for the sake of making ends meet. While we fail to regulate these new forms of work, the benefits of convenience for this industry will never outweigh the cost to our society. Our laws have become hopelessly out of step with the changes in our economy.

It's not just employees who need rights. All workers need rights. Companies are increasingly dreaming up new ways to shirk their responsibility to their workers, using technology to allocate work to supposed contractors, whilst denying their rights to bargain, to set their own wages or to own their own data. The gig economy has become just another loophole for companies to fit through. Just like reducing their tax obligations through creative accounting, they evade their industrial obligations through creative software.

This parliament must act to grant workers' rights, irrespective of whether they are a part-time, full-time or casual employee, or a contractor. If you are a worker, you should have rights—working rights, rights to collective bargaining and freedom of association and representation. The rights of employees should include all workers. Our tribunals should be given the power to inspect and intervene in all emerging forms of work to protect all workers. It is for the family and friends of Dede Fredy and Xiaojun Chen that we take up this fight.