Response to the Secure Work Pilot Scheme Consultation Paper
Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions
I am pleased to provide feedback on the Secure Work Pilot Scheme Consultation Paper released by the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions. I hope that the points I make will be duly considered in the design and operation of the program which will provide up to five days’ pay per year at the minimum wage for casual and other insecure workers in priority industries.
My contribution stems from my background as a hire car driver and commercial passenger vehicle business owner for over 30 years. I was also recent past president of the Commercial Passenger Vehicle Association of Australia (CPVAA, 2014-2018). Now an elected member of the Legislative Council in the Parliament of Victoria and Leader of the Transport Matters Party.
I have a sincere interest and am a strong advocate for improvements in the Commercial Passenger Vehicle (CPV) industry and the lives of the stakeholders working within it. Transport workers across Victoria in the taxi, hire car and rideshare industry provide essential services integral to our public transport network.
The CPV industry is particularly relied upon in regional and rural areas where transport options are limited and by those who are most vulnerable – the sick, frail, elderly, those who are young and at risk, and those travelling late at night. Without the drivers in this industry, many would have no other means of transportation.
At the same time, the drivers working within this sector are some of the most vulnerable and exploited workers of any industry. There is no award wage applicable to this industry, no formal employment agreement, no sick pay, holiday pay or superannuation. Gross earnings are entirely dependent on the time invested in driving and the number of other CPVs on the road diluting the overall market. The industry is comprised of self-employed sole traders, independent contractors, bailee drivers and owner operators. Some are only fleeting when they need a boost to their income derived from other sources, for others this is their primary and only income.
The predominant demographic of the CPV industry particularly in metropolitan areas is new Australians who are unskilled and from linguistically diverse backgrounds with limited alternative employment opportunities. It is commonly known that drivers earn well below the minimum wage taking into consideration fuel and other running costs of the vehicle, insurances, booking service provider affiliation fees, commissions and taxes.
Prior to the CPV industry reforms of 2017 which deregulated market entry, there were approximately 5,500 registered taxi vehicles in Victoria and around 2,800 hire cars or pre-booked vehicles. Since 2017 these numbers have grown to a total of almost 89,000 registered CPVs on our roads, a striking ten-fold increase from only 4 years ago. The market has not grown comparably and yet the number of vehicles continues to rise unabated.
Drivers today are working longer for less than they have ever earned and this of course has been compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. These are the working poor who, under the current health crisis, put themselves and their families at risk everyday working in enclosed spaces with a constant stream of anonymous passengers. They do so as they are completely reliant on the income, however meagre, to support their families.
The threat of losing their job is not the issue for these drivers as they are not formally employed and can come and go as they please. The industry is entirely flexible and there is no shortage of a car to drive. However, with the diminishing income available to be made in an oversupplied market and now also severely depressed due to a reduction in the movement of people under lockdown, there is immense financial pressure to work at all costs, even while unwell.
Only recently on 8 August 2021, Cairns was placed under lock down orders due to a taxi driver who had tested positive for COVID. At the time of writing, the driver had been infectious in the community for 10 days and it is unknown how the virus was contracted. This is not an isolated case. I am aware of other drivers who have attended work unwell only to later find they were COVID positive.
For people who are financially stressed, there is added pressure to soldier on despite feeling unwell. There is often no other option as a loss in income is not something that can be absorbed. Drivers live shift to shift and day by day without much in reserve financially. For them, there is no choice but to work potentially putting the community at risk.
A number of industries have been listed in the Consultation Paper and are expected to be included in the Pilot Scheme. Notably absent, however, is the CPV industry and other transport and delivery related occupations representing some of the most underprivileged workers in our society. For all the reasons highlighted in this submission, it is paramount that these workers are financially supported through illness so that they are positioned to make better choices for their own health and the health of the community. Providing up to five days’ pay per year at the minimum wage for workers in the CPV industry will encourage this.
The CPV industry must be considered for inclusion in the Secure Work Pilot Scheme. Having said this, given the broad range of workers in the industry with different levels of investment in their time, the scheme should differentiate between those whose primary income is derived from the CPV industry and others who work predominantly in other employment and are only active in the industry occasionally.
I look forward to detailed consideration of this proposal and I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my submission.
Rod Barton MP