Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Law and the Gig Economy

Greetings from the Australian National University where a panel is discussing "Law and global financial security".

Pauline Bomball started by pointing out that most gig economy workers are regraded as contractors and so do not receive employee entitlements. A court will decide if the worker is working in their own business, or that of the company.

Cameron Roles went back to when an employee was a "servant" working for a "master". He argued this did not fit today and that even those now regarded as "employees" are not adequately protected, let alone those of the gig economy. The gig economy platforms can provide cheap labor by excluding employee entitlements. Consumers have become used to the lower fees resulting. He also suggested that government reforms contribute to this, such as with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which favor outsourced services. He wants to research innovative solutions, such as casual employees having entitlements bought out in exchange for flexibility. 

Professor Peta Spender discussed crowd funding. One success was Flowhive, but Professor Spender pointed out that two third of crow funding campaigns fail to reach their funding target. Crowd funding can be for general community benefit (with ANU suggesting researchers should explore this option).  The Ukraine is crowdfunding its army. Professor Spender expressed concern over a privatized welfare system with Go-fund-me having an "accidents and emergencies" area.  Also there may be difficulties with unsophisticated investors in crowdfunding and possible fraud. Australia has laws to attempt to limit harmful outcomes but enforcement through class actions may not work (it occurs to me that class actions are a sort of crown funded legal case).

Professor Sally Wheeler, pointed out that technology had been accommodating contract law since the days of the telex (I suggest it actually goes back much further to the telegram). Despite a bad press from the dark web Professor Wheeler suggested that blockchain could be used positively for tracking a fish from catch to plate. Contracts are about trust, but are we trusting the blockchain technology or the business partner.

The question I put to the panel was how these developments will change what law academics do, in terms of research and education. Professor Spender pointed out that crowdfunding is already funding some ANU research and Professor Wheeler that teaching was already largely casualised.

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