ACAPMA recently participated in the Victorian Inquiry into the On Demand Economy which is aiming to unpick the myriad concerns and operating structures that come with the rapidy evolving Gig Economy.

Speaking on ACAPMAs involvement, Elisha Radwanowski said, “On first glance it may seem an odd Inquiry for ACAPMA to be involved in, but the impacts of decisions made in this are will effect downstream petroleum operators in a variety of ways”.

“The Gig Economy touches our members now, and is likley to increase in the future, from direct involvement through partnerships, like the recently launced BP/Uber Eats program, to the growing practice of sourcing repair and maintenance contractors through playforms such as Airttasker and HiPages, our industry needs to be aware and involved in the discussions that are going to impact the operation of this space now and into the future” continued Elisha.

The Roundtable discussion explored the broad challenges faced by Regulators, Legislators, Businesses and consumers, in understanding this diverse and disruptive change to the economy.

Participants brought their own key messages for consideration including; the value, innovation and flexibility that the On Demand platforms are delivering for consumers, businesses and the economy as a whole, as well as importantly for the people who offer their time and services through the platforms. An important message was that there is real value to these people that is delivered by participation in the economy using these developing technologies and platforms, and that they are here to stay.  What is clear is that it is a challenge to Legislators and Regulators to balance the potential for good with the potential for peverse outcomes, always a delicate balance, but one that is even harder to get right in the context of rapid and dynamic change.

It could be argued thar simple, flexible, outcomes focused legislation and regulation is required and that prescription that narrowly defines or constrains participants will only serve to muddy the waters further as time passes and this area of the economy grows and changes.

Inquiry Chair, Natalie James, sought from participants the “one thing” they would like to see changed in this space that would address their concerns. Many around the table were clear in their response that the challenges are too numerous for any “one thing”, and oversimplification would be of little benefit.  ACAPMA took the opportunity however, to focus on the elements that are often overlooked in these discussions, namley a lack of clarity over intended relationships and potential safety implications.

“There is a real need for clarity within the system that recognizes the intent of parties when entering into business arrangement. It is a perverse outcome that a business that engages a contactor to provide design work, for example, can, through the application of taxation law, have that contractor deemed to be an employee if the business is providing 85% of the contractors revenue.  This is bizzare, as in a normal commercial, business to business arrangement, it would be absurd for the hiring business to enquire about the balance sheet and client list of a genuine contractor.  That level of scruitiny of a workers affairs, and the awarding of work based on that infomration, would arguably cause the contractor to be deemed to be an employee under the Fair Work System, due to the hiring businesses level of control.”

“So business engaging contractors are caught in a Catch 22, if they dont meddle in the affairs of the contractors they hire they could end up inadvertently having the ATO deem the contractor be an employee, and if they do meddle to manage this risk and to ensure the relationship functions as intended, then they could end up having the Fair Work Commission deem the contractor be an employee. There is simply no clarity”.

“What is being argued for is changes that would allow for this clarity, for the parties to jointly determine the relationship, and for this determination to be the one that applys, not for conflicting definitions and automatic deeming to occur contrary to the wishes of the parties to the relationship”.

“Similarly what is often left out of these discussions is the potential safety implications, and the lack of clarity around consultation and safety requirements when On Demand workers and their mobile workplaces interact with other businesses.  What is clear is that businesses engaging contractors through On Demand platforms still have a responsibility to verify appropriate qualifications, licences, insurances and capacity to do the work, and to consult on safety implications risks and controls.  What is not clear is the less direct engagements. What are the requirements placed on a retailer when an Uber Eats worker is on site picking up for a customer?  Are the induction and safety consultation requirments still there, and to what extent? These are the things businesses need clarity on”.

ACAPMA is pleased that the Inquiry is investigating these challenges, and hopeful that any changes will serve to bring clarity while preserving the benefits of the Gig Economy to the wider economy.  What remains to be seen is if a National approach will eventuate, or will disparate State systems only further complicate this area.