Fairness in the future of work
Emerging changes in technology, climate change, and the economy have placed pressure on the nature of work and on employment relations in Australia and globally.
Based in the Management and Organisations department of the UWA Business School, Dr Caleb Goods specialises in the future of work, the ‘gig’ economy, and ‘greening’ workplaces. He and his team are increasing awareness of the situations faced by workers in these industries and are working with key bodies to ensure fairness in the future of work.
The gigification of work
The gig economy is where workers do ‘gigs’; one-off deliveries, or passenger pick-ups facilitated via online platforms. Portable technology and more recently, the covid-19 global pandemic has given rise to such convenient, low cost online ordering for consumers and operators.
Workers in the gig economy are usually classified as independent contractors. They are paid per delivery and whilst this means flexibility over their work hours, the trade-offs are job insecurity, concerns over regulation, and pay conditions, the national minimum wage does not apply to independent contractors.
Dr Caleb Goods and his colleagues Dr Alex Veen, University of Sydney and Dr Tom Barratt, Edith Cowan University became curious about the lived experiences of gig workers. With a focus on the more accessible and under-researched food delivery sector, their goal was to understand workers experiences in this emerging industry.
In 2019, interviews with 58 ridesharing and delivery workers in Perth and Melbourne revealed that whilst there were some benefits around flexibility, there existed poor levels of pay, questions of occupational health and safety and feelings of marginalisation amongst workers. Of the 58 interviewees, 47 held temporary work or students visas and had low English language skills, and a limited understanding of their rights in Australia.
This initial study inspired the team to further research workers and advocate for their rights.
I’m interested in how work changes and how we can make work as fair and equitable as possible. I’m inspired by the idea of social justice for workers.
Dr Caleb Goods, UWA
I’m my own boss
Attracting a younger and tech-savvy labour force, the gigification of work has created much hype and divided opinion as to the merits for consumers, society and workers – and whether economic efficiencies threaten traditional employment relationships.
Another study in 2019 into worker experiences with two food delivery platforms explored how companies use algorithms to allocate, monitor, evaluate and reward work. Examples include the allocation of work on the basis of a rating, or how fast deliveries are made.
By accepting this mindset, workers bear the economic risks and associated work insecurity. By improving individual earning capacity, their practices align with the interests of the organisation, but place workers in competition with each other.
Companies will deliberately create information asymmetries where the platform knows everything, but the worker only gets pieces of the information.
Dr Caleb Goods, UWA
An app-etite for workers’ rights
The role of the consumer in the gig economy is critical as consumers drive the ‘on-demand’ nature of the industry and are able to give workers a performance rating via an app. In 2021, the team’s research showed that only 3% of consumers interviewed had a clear understanding of what these ‘gig’ workers conditions were. When asked what workers should receive, 70% believed they should receive the minimum wage, superannuation and occupational health and safety protections, but overall consumers prioritise price in their consumption choices.
Stand up for your rides!
The team have brought a greater social awareness to conditions in the industry, with a growing acceptance that change is needed.
Their current focus is on promoting industry-specific initiatives such as policy and regulation; where workers are treated in a much more equitable way, and where neither job flexibility nor security are compromised.
The team have engaged with platform companies including Uber Australia and Deliveroo and with union groups such as the Transport Workers Union in Australia, and WorkSafe WA, to consider the policy changes needed. Their submissions to Australian Parliamentary Inquiries and Select Committees have examined how people are experiencing the emerging forms of work, and what these changes mean for industrial relations and broader society.
2018 – Select Committee on the Future of Work and Workers
- No workers compensation, job, or income security.
- Limited power of workers, poor conditions, and limited ability of migrant workers to measure their work hours to ensure compliance with immigration law.
2020 – Select Committee on Impact of Technological & Other Change on the Future of Work & Workers in NSW
- Transparency of: average earnings, profitable work times, data collection, use of performance systems. Recourse against decisions, training, improved safety, and workers compensation, including scope to be included under the state Occupational Health and Safety regulation, as recommended by a Western Australian (WA) Parliamentary Inquiry in 2020.
2021 – Select Committee on Job Security
- Access to training and safety equipment, workers compensation and transparency of average earnings.
In March 2021, following a Supreme Court Ruling requiring a change in practices, Uber announced that their drivers in the United Kingdom will be treated as ‘workers’, rather than independent contractors.
Menulog Pty Ltd, Australia’s second-largest food delivery platform followed suite in April 2021, announcing a pilot program to engage some of its couriers as employees, thus committing to pay couriers a minimum wage and superannuation. In August, the team responded to the application via the Australian Fair Work Commission Statement FWCFB 4053, expressing concern that the scope would be too narrow and that a new award might place online platform companies with a cost advantage over existing forms of near-identical work, covered by existing awards.
When you are ordering food delivery or taking that ride share trip, think about how the person is being paid and being treated. How can you help make the gig economy a fairer economy?
Dr Caleb Goods, UWA
There’s a greener way
Dr Goods started his research in the area of climate change and work transitioning in 2009, during his PhD. His goals were to understand the concept of ‘green jobs’ and the changing nature of work due to climate change.
This research looks at the emergence of renewable energy, and how existing fossil fuel industries and communities, might transition into a renewable energy future in a fair and equitable way.
We know that if we want to meet the Paris climate targets, the world needs to fundamentally change.
Dr Caleb Goods, UWA
Climate change will increasingly impact work, workplaces and workplace relations. Australia is an economy that for decades has relied on fossil fuels for energy and for export income, however the Paris Agreement will require a change in policy and a transition from traditional industries to green manufacturing, resources and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.
Just transition is the call for climate transformation that not only includes a healthy economy, but that prioritises the social and environmental needs of workers and communities affected by changes.
In 2021, Dr Goods published research outlining how businesses in Australia are responding to the idea of just transition. The research provides international scholars and policy makers with an analytical tool to understand different industry motivations of the value of change, from material and political economy perspectives.
When we think about climate change, we don’t think about the sort of economic transformation that has to go alongside it, and what that means for workers, industries and communities.
Dr Caleb Goods, UWA
Adapting to climate change
The WA State Government announced their Western Australian Climate Policy at the end of 2020, which underscores a commitment to achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Dr Goods is working with policy makers in a consultative approach to tackle challenges within the mining and engineering sector.
Dr Goods and colleagues, including Professor Bradon Ellem, University of Sydney conducted a study in 2017 which found that cost-cutting by mining companies during a global downturn impacted heavily on the mining engineering sector, placing pressure on global and local firms and labour processes. They found that the workforce, was central to how firms reacted. Having a broad union membership is important for change and in shaping the future work environment.
Climate bargaining in Canada
Delving deeper into the connections between climate change and employment relations, Dr Goods collaboration with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces research project team in 2017 outlined a central aspect of contemporary employment relations – the growing impact climate change is having on workplace relations. The study looked at initiatives around climate bargaining, where clauses are negotiated into workplace agreements on how a workplace can actively reduce its environmental impacts. The multidisciplinary team presented their research at the XIX International Sociological Association World Congress in 2018 and continue to examine how workplaces and industries are responding to the global challenge of climate change.
Collie and the black rock
In 2020, with support from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Australian Research Council, Dr Goods and his colleagues undertook a study to understand the nature of the labour force in the iron ore and coal mining sectors and the changes that occurred following a global downturn in price. Government intervention, in the form of public policy in this space is critical to support investment and coordinate business workforce skills.
The team are consulting with the WA State Government on their Just Transition Plan for Collie, a coal mining town in the South West of WA. Considerations for this project include whether new jobs can be created in new mining connected to rare earths, as well as the economic outcomes for workers shifting from traditional types of work to work that may not require the same skills, and therefore not attract the same level of pay.
If you want to support communities, you need to create skilled, high paid jobs in new forms of manufacturing.
Dr Caleb Goods, UWA