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Grim statistic reveals ‘national disaster’ hiding in this workforce

Lucy Dean
·3-min read
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 15, 2018 : Cyclist at Melbourne city center. People using bicycle for commute to work or food delivery.
These new figures have been described as a "national disaster". Image: Getty

Australia has seen the first increase in deaths at work since 2007, with the transport industry the most dangerous for workers.

The Safe Work Australia data released on Monday revealed 183 Australians died at work in 2019, an increase of 38 deaths in 2018.

The transport sector saw the biggest increase, with 58 workers dying in 2019 compared to 38 the year before. New South Wales also saw a significant increase in fatalities, with 61 people dying compared to 47 in 2018.

“The rates of injury and death in the transport sector, in no small part due to the appalling conditions faced by delivery workers in the gig economy, is a national disaster. More than one worker a week died in transport alone in 2019,” the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Liam O’Brien said.

“The pandemic has exposed the systemic issues facing workers in health and community services, and this data shows the human cost of those failings did not begin with the virus.”

The ACTU noted that the Government hasn’t acted on the recommendations of a 2018 review into national work health and safety legislation, which would have see industrial manslaughter provisions introduced seeing employers held responsible for onsight deaths and psychological injuries.

“Every worker has the right to go to work and come home safe. Sadly, this data shows the appalling toll of Government inaction on workplace health and safety. Nearly 4 deaths every week while the Morrison Government talked up economic growth before the pandemic,” O’Brien said.

“Every death at work is preventable.”

Gig economy in the spotlight

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 15, 2018 : Cyclist at Melbourne city center. People using bicycle for commute to work or food delivery.
Gig workers including food delivery drivers are in the spotlight. Image: Getty

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) also warned the “horrific” figures are the result of a lack of regulation in the gig economy.

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said the abolition of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) in 2016 was partly to blame, noting that the Tribunal was charged with ensuring workers were paid for all their work including waiting time, were able to take leave without losing their contracts and provided whistleblower protection.

"The government's own report found the RSRT would have cut truck crashes by 28 per cent by relieving some of the financial pressure on drivers to work beyond their physical limits. Now the RSRT is gone and the prediction of a rise in fatalities has proven sadly spot on.”

A recent TWU survey of food delivery riders found they were receiving an average hourly rate of just $10.42, and 71 per cent of workers said they struggled to buy groceries and cover bills. The same survey found that more than 36 per cent had been injured at work, with 81 per cent receiving no support from the company.

The fresh statistics come after two separate food delivery drivers were killed in road accidents in late September.

Dede Fredy worked for Uber Eats, while Xiaojun Chen delivered for food delivery app Hungry Panda. The two men were sending money back to their families in Indonesia and China respectively.

Most gig economy workers aren’t eligible for standard workers compensation as they’re considered independent contractors, not employees.

That means that while the standard NSW compensation scheme, the dependents of someone who dies in a workplace injury will receive an $834,200 lump sum and weekly payments for dependents younger than 16.

But Uber Eats’ insurance policy sets the maximum compensation for a workplace death at $400,000.

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