Airtasker is the most recent operator in the “gig” economy facing allegations of sham contracting and underpayment for work performed.
Airtasker is an online service where users who require assistance with a particular job can connect with workers who are available and willing to complete the job. The tasks can range from home and garden maintenance, house cleaning, removal and pickup services to more specialist work including computer and IT support, administration and accounting assistance and marketing and development.
Recently, Unions NSW have released a report entitled “Innovation or Exploitation – Busting the Airtasker Myth” claiming that the Airtasker market system allows minimum rates of pay and health and safety protections to be eroded. Unions NSW point to the online task system where users can post the task and the price they are willing to pay for the task to be completed. There is no set minimum rate of pay and workers who want to complete the task can bid against other workers to secure the job.
The Australian national minimum wage is currently $17.70 per hour with casual employees also entitled to 25% casual loading. In our previous blog “Ride with me – Food delivery bicycle riders and sham contracting” we discussed the issue of sham contracting and a proposed test case.
Airtasker keeps 15% of the agreed rate, again undercutting minimum rates of pay payable to the person performing the work. It is this mandatory fee system which Unions NSW have argued suggests that the Airtasker business model operates as a labour hire agency, particularly as Airtasker forms affiliations with other Australian businesses. In July 2016, it was announced that The Good Guys would partner with Airtasker to allow customers to make a purchase as well as organise a worker to install or set up their purchase.
In addition to contraventions of the sham contracting provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (FW Act) this situation raises the issue of whether affiliated businesses could be held accountable under the accessorial liability provisions under the FW Act. Section 550 of the Act provides that a person ‘involved in’ the contravention of a civil remedy provision of the Act will be taken to have contravened that provision, with potential liability extending to businesses and individuals.
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