Disruption has been a defining buzzword of this decade, as companies in nearly all sectors find themselves challenged or supplanted as a result of the impact of technology. The beneficiaries of this disruption have mostly been newcomer enterprises – the Ubers and the Amazons – which have quickly grown to become part of everyday life.
Policymakers, reluctant to quash innovation, have taken a hands-off approach. But these innovators’ employment practices don’t appear to be so innovative. In recent times, however, some tech innovators have shown they aren’t allergic to bargaining with their workforce after all.
Now, though, major firms have begun to negotiate collective agreements with their workers.
Amazon in Italy
For the first time anywhere in the world, it was announced in May that Amazon had made an agreement with unions. The breakthrough took place in Italy, where Amazon and the FILCAMS CGIL union negotiated an agreement. It was endorsed by 70% of employees who voted on it.
The deal came into effect on June 17. It ensures fairness in scheduling and allocating weekend work, and reduces mandatory night shifts.
Amazon workers now get four consecutive free weekends out of every eight. Shifts alternate between Saturdays and Sundays, and they get 25% higher pay for working at night.
The Amazon warehouse and distribution centre in Piacenza, Italy, is now covered by a collective agreement with workers.
We have heard a lot about Uber, Deliveroo, Foodora and Airtasker and the problems created because they don’t treat their workers as employees. This means, among other things, they don’t provide the minimum wage or other basic employment standards. Airtasker has sought to address this by making undertakings to the peak union body in New South Wales.
In New South Wales, the shadow minister for industrial relations, Adam Searle, announced that Labor intends, if elected, to introduce even broader protections for gig workers to “fill gaps” in the Fair Work Act.
The Queensland government is considering options to extend workers’ compensation coverage to gig workers.
Gig employers have a strong incentive to sit down and talk – it could make for an uncomfortable ride for them if workers’ entitlements continue to be imposed through political agitation followed by legislation.
Perhaps it won’t be long until we see one of these tech innovators put in place such an “innovative” agreement with its Australian workers.
Michael Walker is an official of the Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees' Association.
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