In the ‘freelance economy’, is anything actually free?

freelance economy
Aaron Goonrey

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written on September 1, 2016

These days, Uber and uberfication have become synonymous with decentralising work. Apparently, we no longer need to be burdened with the shackles of employment; we can all be independent contractors in the freelance economy and stick it to the man. Or can we?

If you’ve got some spare time and have a car, you can become an Uber driver. If you’re handy, you can go and offer to hang a picture for a ‘tasker’ (or is it ‘taskee’?) through Airtasker. If you have a vacant abode, short-term lease it through Airbnb. Digital disruption has arrived and it seems that in this new freelance economy, we can all profit from it in one way or another.

However (and with me being a lawyer, I can’t not say this) a word of caution to the wise. There are a number of important considerations that arise from the advent of the freelance economy, particularly relating to the application of employment and industrial laws.

For example, under the Fair Work Act there is a minimum of benefits to which employees are entitled. Depending on a range of things, including the level of control being exercised by the gig business, it is conceivable that some contractors could be considered employees. However, this is just one of many factors to consider in this brave new world.

Who is responsible for superannuation or workers compensation? Are these arrangements factored in when Deliveroo-ers or Uber drivers are engaged? If an Airtasker is injured at your home while putting together your sleek new IKEA “BESTÅ BURS” TV bench, are you liable for that injury? Does occupational health and safety legislation impose duties on you when using the services offered by a gig business? These questions haven’t yet been tested by the courts, but the answer to that last one might well turn out to be “yes.”

For employers, considerations also arise around conflict of interests and exclusivity of arrangements with employees. Assume your employee works during the day for you as an account manager and then moonlights as an Uber driver. On the face of it, this employee’s role as an Uber driver does not cause a conflict. However, it might affect their performance as an account manager because they haven’t had a decent amount of rest.

As you can see, the law is still catching up with the freelance economy. There are a lot of – as yet – unanswered questions around how we deal with the new types of employment issues that this new economy is creating. In terms of uberfication, it’s very much a case of watch this space and adapt to the challenges where possible.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at demystifying the instructions to my IKEA TV bench and getting in an Airtasker. Or is it Airtaskee? …

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