Self-regulation might resolve Australian gig-economy woes better

Self-regulation in Australia’s gig economy could create collaborative workplaces and innovative relationships beyond the government’s proposals.
By: | November 21, 2023

The self-regulation of the gig-economy industry in Australia could produce more sustainable outcome instead of solely relying on the government to negotiate change.

That is the claim that Dr Alex Veen, Senior Lecturer at University of Sydney Business, is suggesting. The expert explained that the government’s new Commission, a proposed industrial relations shake-up, will provide gig employees with additional protections but misses an opportunity to move away from Australia’s adversarial workplace relations and embrace regulatory innovation.

The gig economy is an important source of income for employees in traditionally disadvantaged groups, like immigrants, people with a disability or caring responsibilities, and older employees, Dr Veen explained. As a result, these employees are vulnerable to the vagaries of the gig economy market, where platforms prioritise cost-cutting measures, leaving employees with limited recourse against dismissal and exposed to higher workplace injury risks.

“The problem, however, is that the government has opted to effectively mimic an enterprise bargaining system that hasn’t been delivering, and which has contributed to a culture of adversarialism,” Dr Veen continued. Rather than force the parties to rely upon the new Commission  for decisions they will invariably disagree with, he argued, gig economy platforms and employees should take the opportunity to experiment with self-regulation within the industry. This collaboration to create solutions together will “help to foster more collaborative and productive workplace relations,” explained Dr Veen, citing the Dutch temporary staffing sector as a successful example of self-regulation.

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The real risk with the proposed jurisdiction, he explained, is that any collective bargaining efforts may be undone by prescriptive minimum standards orders. “The government has an opportunity to learn from a more successful approach and empower the industry to proactively develop its own solutions, rather than rely on the Commission to set the agenda,” he concluded.