Uber workers in Sydney earn less than the minimum wage for casual workers even during peak delivery hours, according to data submitted by the company as part of an Australian Senate inquiry into job security and the gig economy.
In Uber’s submission to the Select Committee on Job Security, the ridehailing and delivery giant cites two commissioned studies that found that the average hourly wage (after costs) is $21.00 Australian dollars (~$16 US dollars) for Uber drivers and $21.55 Australian dollars (~$16.40 US dollars) for food delivery workers.
Both of those numbers are below the $24 AUD minimum wage for casual workers 21 and above. In Australia, full time and part time employees make a minimum wage of $20 per hour, and “casual” workers (people who accept jobs with no promise of future work) make an extra 20 percent.
The purpose of the inquiry is to examine and report on the impact of the gig economy on Australia’s economy, including wages and workers’ rights, and, among other things, whether current regulations are sufficient for the sector. While no particular policies or regulations are on the table yet for the committee, the opposition Australian Labor Party has proposed minimum pay for gig workers.
In the inquiry’s first public hearing held Sunday there were at times tense exchanges between senators and the attending representatives from a number of gig companies, including Uber, Deliveroo, and DoorDash.
“We've seen older and younger workers dramatically affected across our economy, because they're having to work one, two and three jobs to turn around and make sure that they hope they can pay their rent, put food on their table, even take out a home loan,” Senator Tony Sheldon told one representative, according to ABC Australia.
In a comment to Motherboard, Uber reiterated the results of the research cited in its report and rehashed the familiar argument that its workers value the supposed flexibility that comes with the platform. “Delivery people reported that flexibility was a key attraction of working on Uber Eats and 4 in 5 are satisfied with their experience,” the spokesperson said.
In its submission, Uber also argued that many workers using the platform do so in conjunction with other gig companies, but even according to the survey it cites, that applies to just over a third of respondents. “The majority (64.8%), however, access work using only one digital platform,” that survey concluded.
In the US, Uber typically insists that its drivers make more than the minimum wage while third party analyses have shown that in reality they do not. So, it’s notable that Uber is itself admitting that workers make less than the minimum wage in Australia. Even so, in its own submission to the Senate committee, the Transport Workers’ Union of Australia disputed Uber’s numbers and accused the company of underestimating or excluding costs such as phone bills and protective equipment.
“UberEats released a report it had commissioned which claimed that UberEats which claimed that UberEats workers earn an average of $21.55 per hour after costs,” the submission reads. “These figures, while still placing delivery workers below the minimum casual wage in Australia, are nevertheless an attempt to deceive policy.”
The Transport Workers’ Union cites research of its own in the submission, including two surveys of rideshare drivers and food delivery workers from various platforms. It calculated that the former earn $10.42 and the latter $12.85 on average per hour after costs. The Transport Workers’ Union’s submission also said that 74 percent of the surveyed food delivery workers reported that they were struggling to pay their bills and buy groceries.
The Transport Workers’ Union’s averages are far closer to those reported last year to VICE by a group of food delivery workers in Australia than those calculated by Uber.
The inquiry in Australia comes as Uber and other gig companies are increasingly finding themselves scrutinized by governments and legal systems around the world. In January an Italian court decided that an algorithm used by Deliveroo is discriminatory, and in February the UK’s Supreme Court decided that Uber drivers are in fact workers and entitled to minimum wage and sick pay.