Using a contractor is key to Uber’s business model as it lowers costs and allows its workers to be more flexible on their day-to-day, taking orders from multiple platforms and to enter and exit at will.
Uber Eats Australia general manager Matthew Denman said legality was not a factor in his decision to implement the new safety features, which followed the deaths of two people. Uber Eats riders in three days amid a spate of five deaths across the industry last year.
“What we’re saying is: ‘how do we operationalize this and let’s go ahead and do it because it’s the right thing to do it’,” said Denman.
The Transport Workers Union, which has campaigning against what it sees as non-existent job security, low pay and frequent injuries in the performing economy, welcomed the changes but said they were overcoming the sector’s symptoms.
“The fatal pressure imposed by Uber’s exploitative business model that literally kills workers remains unchanged,” said the union’s national secretary, Michael Kaine. “Offering a Band-Aid solution when the adverse publicity gets a little hot isn’t enough.”
The time pressure caused by low pay and an app that lets users rate passengers off due to slow delivery are the real culprits of safety concerns, Kaine said.
Mr Denman countered that Uber riders enjoyed their flexibility and were well paid, pointed to study released last year from a Victorian government investigation that found the average hourly rate for motorists delivering on-app was around $ 22.
“Without going into specifics, it reflects what we saw,” he said. The company is open to discussion about paying the minimum wage while motorists are on their way, said Denman, although he did not agree on the overall hourly wage which would include waiting time.
Of the new measures, helmet detection software and checklists are being rolled out in Australia before anywhere else. Other companies, including Deliveroo, already provide safety items such as jackets to their riders. Riders will also receive more safety training.
These steps were taken at a time when Uber faced widespread pressure. Cut resolve court cases from the union late last year after a Federal Court judge withdrew his argument that Uber Eats workers are not employees and then changed the contract. The British high court found a group of its workers located not self-employed this month and at the state level, the Victorian government has indicated it will regulate the sector while the NSW government is reviewing safety guidelines.
Federally, Labor and the unions want independent court to give riders such employee-like rights as the minimum wage.
Nick Bonyhady is an industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based between Sydney and Parliament House in Canberra.
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