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COVID-19 Highlights Precariousness Of The Gig Economy, Says Uber Driver

The global spread of coronavirus is highlighting major flaws with the ‘gig economy’ and employment law, as workers like Uber drivers are denied basic rights like paid sick leave due to their status as contractors rather than employees, FIRST Union said today.

Employers all over the world are encouraging workers to self-isolate or work from home to lessen their chances of catching the virus or passing it on, but many workers do not have the ability to work from home and some, like those classified as contractors, do not even have paid sick leave. Anita Rosentreter, FIRST Union spokesperson, says that rideshare drivers, like those who work for Uber, and courier drivers are among those at risk.

"We’re concerned that these workers have no choice but to keep working, even if unwell, and they are in direct contact with members of the public," said FIRST Union spokesperson Anita Rosentreter.

Internationally, Uber has announced that it will be providing compensation to drivers who are diagnosed with coronavirus. FIRST Union is calling on Uber New Zealand to confirm that drivers here will be covered in the same way.

David (not his real name) has been an Uber driver for over five years and says the lack of employment protections means deactivation and loss of income are possibilities even against the backdrop of a global health scare:

"Anytime anyone sneezes in my car, I get their bug. I don’t want to wind down the windows because some passengers don’t like that and I can’t risk getting a bad rating in case I’m deactivated," he said.

"Uber has a dictatorial control over everything. If you’re deactivated, there’s nowhere to go."

"If I stop driving, even for a minute, everything gets financially rocky. I’m totally reliant on my health holding up. I’m a superannuate, so I have a safety net, but for the ones who don’t have that, getting sick would be catastrophic."

"I’ll continue driving unless I’m really sick."

Ms Rosentreter says that Uber’s offer to drivers is a band-aid solution and highlights a major failing of the gig economy generally: "This just proves that sick pay is necessary and not a ‘nice-to-have’ - a permanent solution is desperately needed," she said.

The Government has recently completed a round of consultation on its Better Protections for Contractors discussion document, which includes a range of options to discourage the misclassification of employees as contractors and improve work rights for genuine contractors. FIRST Union submitted in support of all but one of the proposed measures, which would result in the reclassification of some contractors as employees, therefore giving them access to paid sick leave and other benefits.

"We are urging the Government to commit to implementing the measures it tabled in the document if re-elected," Ms Rosentreter says.

"The gig economy does not provide workers with the basics - it doesn't make sense that a Countdown delivery driver (who's an employee) has sick pay but a courier driver (who's a contractor) doesn't. The Government needs to step in and ensure employers play fair."

The Government is expected to announce a plan to respond to coronavirus this week and FIRST Union hopes that it will include measures for contractors.


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