, September 16, 2019
Under amendments to the Owner Drivers and Forestry Contractors Act passed on Thursday last week, contract gig economy drivers will be protected from safety, income and business risks.
The reforms change the definition of ‘freight broker’ to cover owner-operators of one to three vehicles — including bicycles — employed under third-party platforms.
Under the current act, contractors are “left with little recourse to pursue legal action if they wanted to contest issues”, Minister for Industrial Relations Tim Pallas explained in a statement.
“Regulation in the industry simply wasn’t working — we’ve strengthened the Act so that those who do the wrong thing face serious penalties.”
These issues commonly stem from inadequate records of contractual agreements, the statement added.
VSBC commissioner Judy O’Connell tells SmartCompany she hopes these reforms will help to regulate the existing arbitrary rating system to become more in line with other service businesses.
“We’ve had gig economy businesses who have been automatically terminated because they get a rating below a certain level with no right of response.
“And in any service business, customers can have a bad day and pinning it to a customer satisfaction rating can be really arbitrary,” she says.
The reforms will be implemented from May 2020 after a “comprehensive information campaign” runs to ensure all relevant parties are aware of the changes.
Cases from that date which cannot be solved through mediation will pass through to the VSBC for arbitration. Wage Inspectorate Victoria will then enforce the outcome.
Hirers and brokers in violation of their obligations are set to face fines of over $16,500 as a body corporate or up to $10,000 as an individual.
“Under the new legislation, people who are UberEats drivers will get paid within 30 days. Payment is a big issue as well. Some payments are paid in 60 to 90 days, we’ve heard,” O’Connell says.
In these cases, small disputes are often unaddressed, as its “not worth taking it to court or even the legal costs involved”, she says.
“We find that a lot of owner-drivers don’t know that the VSBC exists, really.
“To mediate only costs $95 and under the new legislation. I can legally arbitrate a binding decision which will keep it out of the court system altogether,” she adds.
The changes come in the midst of ongoing disputes across the country, and indeed the world, about how to classify owner-drivers. Employees or contractors?
“I think Victoria’s leading the way on getting ahead of the game in the gig economy,” O’Connell says.
Les Johnson, secretary of the Ride Sharing Drivers Association, agrees that Victoria is changing the most in Australia and the changes reflect the global trend towards legally classifying gig economy drivers as employees.
“Things seem to be happening somewhat differently in Victoria compared to what they are in any other jurisdiction here in Australia,” he says.
“The vast majority of drivers here in Australia prefer to be contractors, but having said that, they also want there to be fair and sustainable contracts.
“They want it to be that the rates are sustainable, and thirdly, that if there’s a complaint made against the driver, the driver has a fair and transparent right of reply to any allegations that are made.
“None of those things are in place here in Australia at the moment,” he says.