The Transport Workers Union (TWU) is calling for food delivery companies to give their workers proper wages and entitlements, after the Federal Circuit Court (FCC) recently slammed employers for sham contracting when underpaying a bicycle courier.

TWU bike courier delegate Alan Macgill, a courier for 11 years, said Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Foodora had “taken the old problem of exploitation and slapped an app on it – but the practice is still the same”. TWU national secretary Tony Sheldon said the case was one of “hundreds” the union saw every day. He said the union was calling for “an urgent meeting” with all food delivery companies. “They (bike couriers) are not paid their super entitlements, they have no work cover and they cannot challenge the rate whims of UberEATS, Deliveroo, Foodora or other home delivery companies,” he said. “If they speak up they can be sacked and cannot challenge their sacking. “It is time this exploitation ended and so we will be requesting an urgent meeting with these companies.”

In response to the union’s criticism, an Uber spokesperson said UberEATS offered drivers and bike couriers “a flexible and reliable way to make money on a schedule that works for them”. The FCC decision came in the same week Uber failed in an appeal against a UK ruling that its drivers should be treated as workers rather than as self-employed.

Last year, a UK employment tribunal ruled that two drivers were not contractors, but that they were Uber staff and entitled to the minimum wage, holiday pay and paid rest breaks. In its appeal, Uber unsuccessfully argued drivers were self-employed and were under no obligation to use its booking app. It said Uber planned to appeal the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision to higher courts.

Acting Fair Work Ombudsman Kristen Hannah said disguising an employment relationship by classifying workers as independent contractors was “a devious way” to avoid providing workers with their correct entitlements. “Employers ought to be warned that they cannot simply ignore our advice,” Hannah said. “We have a range of materials available in multiple languages and a dedicated small business helpline. There has never been more information freely available than there is today – the time for excuses is over.” FCC Judge Grant Riethmuller said the FWO should tell employers accused of sham contracting about the option to ask the courts to first examine the true nature of the employment relationship.

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