Drivers at Amazon Flex win an important victory over the gig economy

Photo form the ABC: An Amazon Flex Driver on the job

Contributed from New South Wales

There is some good news for courier drivers and members of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) in New South Wales. A long and arduous campaign, including strike action, has won major improvements to their rates of pay at major gig economy employer Amazon Flex.

Owner drivers of vans between 1.5 and 3 tonnes will now be paid $43.73 an hour by order of the New South Wales Industrial Relations Commission. Other drivers will get an enforceable rate of $37.80. The increase will be phased in over the next three years.

Photo by Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Although this barely reaches the minimum wage and still not enough in the longer run, it is a significant breach of the solid wall of resistance by employers in the gig economy against any shift whatsoever from the far lower incomes and inferior working conditions

This win may prove to be the first step towards winning parity with workers in normal and secure jobs.

The immediate effect is to set a precedent that strengthens the position of gig workers in other companies and creates the conditions for a flow on of what the Amazon Flex drivers have won.

Australia’s gig economy has been a vehicle to introduce a new form of cheap labour for a long time, which has been a key factor in lowering the wages share in national income cross the economy. By taking advantage of the shortage of available jobs, applicants for jobs have been pressured to accept less and to become contractors. This means they also get to pay for the vehicles they use, and other costs like insurance and superannuation, even though in practice they are really employees working for one employer.

Amazon Flex drivers have also won the right to dispute resolution, and to union representation and collective bargaining. The bottom line is these drivers are now closer to not being contractors but recognised as workers with a normal working relationship with their employer. This is the most important gain.

Behind this, has been the capacity of the drivers to stick together and be determined to maintain a campaign that eventually broke through to score some important goals. This is what ensured a ruling in their favour.

As Sally McManus, Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said in response to the Commission’s determination.

 “Gig economy employers have been put on notice today – Australians will not tolerate his business model that relies on poverty wages and worker exploitation.”

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