Gig workers need workers’ comp rights: urgent need for law reform

26th Mar 2024

Urgent action is required now from the Queensland Government to respond to the changing nature of the workforce and to extend workers’ compensation rights to gig workers, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).

“The need for this coverage is becoming more and more imperative as the gig economy grows and is becoming less safe for workers,” said Sarah Grace, Queensland President, Australian Lawyers Alliance. “We are regularly seeing examples of workplace health and safety practices in the gig economy that fall far short of the safe, secure workplace standards that we strive for in Queensland.”

Gig workers should have the same access to medical treatment, and other statutory and common law benefits when they are injured at work as all ‘traditional’ workers in Queensland.

“We are calling on the Queensland Government to make the necessary amendments to the law to give clear and certain workers’ compensation rights to gig workers,” said Ms Grace. “We know that injuries occur working in the gig economy daily and, tragically, deaths also occur.

“Unfortunately, the most marginalised workers are over-represented in the gig economy, and it is these workers being unfairly impacted by the lack of access to workers’ compensation.”

Amending the legislation will benefit injured workers in the gig economy and their family and dependents, but it will also ‘level the playing field’ for other employers who are doing the right thing and providing a safe and regulated workplace.

“Employer groups have historically supported the need for identical workers’ compensation rights for gig workers, because this levels the playing field.  At present, employers who adhere to their legal obligations are unfairly disadvantaged by the absence of clear obligations to pay workers’ compensation premiums, which the owners of the gig platforms exploit to the detriment of their workers and employers who do the right thing,” said Ms Grace.

“Increases in precarious work and contracting, and the increasing use of technology in the allocation of work all magnify the effects of poor employment practices, which include the exploitation of visa workers, young workers and those seeking to re-join the workforce.

“We know that sham contracting is rife, with workers told they must be independent contractors rather than traditional employees. These individuals are then deprived of superannuation, insurance, workers’ compensation, award protections and the other workplace benefits Australian workers have come to expect.”

The common law has not kept pace with the growth and complexity of the gig economy and a legislative remediation of the situation is imperative.

“Over seven years ago, reform was recommended but it has not been embraced.  It is now an urgent issue.  More people will be injured, and some will die without reform,” said Ms Grace.

“Legislative reform is required to extend workers’ compensation rights to gig workers to ensure they and their families in Queensland are protected.”

Tags: Queensland Workers compensation gig economy