Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke recently called gig work a ‘cancer’. Give us a break! What a ridiculous overstatement.
Let’s get real. Only 0.19 per cent of workers earn their full-time income through gig platforms. Yes, 0.19 per cent! That’s it. But, on the back of this cancerous depiction of gig work, the Albanese government intends to clamp down on it.
People who do gig work are, by definition, self-employed. Attacking gig means attacking self-employed people. Burke’s comment is insulting to self-employed people.
But if we’re going to apply such politically emotive language to policy analysis, where’s the real ‘cancer’?
Take the aged care sector. This is one sector Minister Burke identified as having a (cancer) problem.
The 2020–21 Royal Commission into Aged Care exposed abusive treatment of people in aged care. It was and is a massive scandal. The Royal Commission recommended that self-employed people and gig work be banned from aged care.
However, the Royal Commission offered no evidence as to why self-employment/gig should be outlawed. Was it because self-employed people abused elderly people? The Commission was silent. The fact is, however, that 96 per cent of people working in aged care are direct employees of aged care providers. Surely this overwhelming percentage would suggest that the problem lies in employment, not with self-employment/gig.
Facts speak louder than assumptions.
Care workers in aged care are on rock-bottom low wages. This leads to high worker turnover and lower quality care. Low pay rates occur because the award minimum pay rates, in practice, are the maximum being paid.
But the evidence is that the 4 per cent of workers in aged care who are self-employed are routinely paid more than employees. This evidence, which is accepted as valid, comes from Mable the largest gig platform operating in aged care. The higher rates occur because the self-employed workers are free to negotiate their remuneration directly with the people they care for. This doesn’t happen with employees.
The Commonwealth funds aged care. But there’s evidence to suggest much of that money disappears into a black hole. Look at these facts.
Funding for the top level in-home care is around $114 per hour. Aged care ‘providers’ are overwhelmingly not-for-profit charities and manage the money. They pay their ‘employed’ award workers roughly $32 an hour (casual). Add workers’ compensation premiums and so on and the cost is $35 an hour. The providers routinely charge another 32 per cent ($36 an hour) for their services of assessing and monitoring need, and organising workers.
There’s a gap, therefore, of $43 an hour of unexplained and unaccounted Commonwealth funding. What’s going on?
This month, media leaks from a yet-to-be-released Health Department report state that 9-in-10 in-home care providers don’t meet minimum government price transparency requirements. Some 275,000 older Australians receiving government-funded home care can lose up to 60 per cent of their allocated money in provider fees.
This ‘disappearing’ money is being spent on “excluded items” such as holidays, TVs, renovations and more. Maybe a good portion of this expenditure is justified? But is this where $43 an hour goes?
What is obvious is that the front-line employees doing the care are paid rubbish. Surely within existing funding budgets there is ample room to pay workers more. There’s a lot of fat in the system. Self-employed gig workers individually can and do negotiate higher remuneration. This doesn’t happen with employees.
What really emerges is that it’s the employed 96 per cent of workers in aged care who are being exploited by the ‘employment’ system.
The ‘cancer’ in aged care looks much more like the result of employment management systems than the outcome of gig platforms. In fact, gig-organised self-employment could well be the answer to a sick aged care system.
The Albanese government should take off its ‘cancer’ blinkers. Gig and self-employment offer real solutions, not problems.