Uber Eats-Amita Gupta case calls for gig worker law reform: Study

The sacking of Indian-origin Amita Gupta by Uber Eats for allegedly arriving 10 minutes late for a delivery — after having worked 96 hours in one week — has highlighted the need to provide basic employment rights to gig workers, a new study has said.

Gupta had sued Uber Eats in 2019, claiming that she was only paid A$300 for 96 hours of work.

After the first hearing in the Federal Court, Uber settled the high-profile unfair dismissal case with Gupta for $400,000 out of court.

According to criminology researchers at Flinders University, inadequate legal reforms, limited power of unions and absence of other safeguards covering this new-economy industry continues to disadvantage gig workers and reinforce the power of companies operating in such a ‘precarious’ casual labour market.

The out-of-court settlement hinged on two key mechanisms of algorithm control’ taking responsibility from the company, and a popular narrative of worker autonomy and choice, according to associate professor Marinella Marmo from Flinders University.

The case in 2020 hinged on the company’s model of using an algorithm to allocate and manage work so it can offer flexibility and autonomy for workers in a non-traditional employment model.

“We argue that the gig companies use the algorithm and the ‘flexibility and autonomy’ arguments to take away responsibility from themselves, while spinning the model as a positive for the gig worker (by using the ‘they can choose how much/how often they want to engage’ argument),” Marmo said in a university statement late on Monday.

A new research paper, published in the Griffith Law Review, focuses on the need for a broader approach to worker rights in the modern globalised economy, to address harmful impact on gig workers, many of them from multicultural backgrounds who are already disadvantaged in the workforce.

“The gig economy has created new market conditions that exacerbate the exploitation of some of the most vulnerable workers with insecure work and low wages and even supplying their own tools or vehicle,” said co-author Dr Sanzhuan Guo.

“The Gupta case may be seen to signify the non-existence of employment relations, or at least the need to question whether gig workers are employees in the traditional sense or subcontractors (independent service providers).”

Gig companies are establishing new grounds for the commodification of labour to minimise production costs and time.

“This generates new forms of precariousness that produce social harm. The two mechanisms of control reflect a powerful narrative that is difficult to disrupt, because the gig economy has been appropriated, normalised and imposed as socially productive, that is, as serving the greater good,” said Flinders University PhD candidate, Elvio Sinopoli.

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