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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Naaman Zhou

Family of Uber Eats rider killed in Sydney files workers’ compensation claim in test for gig economy

uber eats rider
Five delivery riders have died in Australia since the end of September. A family of one of the riders has filed a workers’ compensation claim against Uber. Under Australian labour laws, food delivery riders are considered independent contractors, not employees. Photograph: Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

The family of an Uber Eats rider killed in Australia this year has filed a workers’ compensation claim over his death, in what could become a landmark case for the gig economy.

Five delivery riders have died in Australia since the end of September. Dede Fredy, a 36-year-old Uber Eats worker from Indonesia, died on 27 September after he was hit by a car in Sydney while delivering food.

Now a claim for workers’ compensation for a work-related death has been filed on behalf of his widow, Nyoman Sunarti, and their four-year old son Muhammad.

Under current Australian labour laws, food delivery riders are considered independent contractors, not employees. Labour law expert Joellen Riley Munton from the University of Technology Sydney said no food delivery worker had successfully claimed workers’ compensation for death in Australia, but it could be possible.

The claim was filed with the state insurer iCare on Tuesday by lawyers acting for the Transport Workers’ Union.

The union is arguing that Dede and other contractors are entitled to the same workplace compensation in the event of death as Uber’s employees who work in its offices.

Under the New South Wales worker compensation scheme, Dede’s family would be entitled to a lump sum of $834,200, and weekly payments of $149.30 for his four-year-old son until he turns 16.

Fredy’s family and other Uber Eats riders are covered by a group insurance policy bought by the company.

Under the Uber Eats insurance policy, eligible dependants canreceive a maximum of a $400,000 lump sum, and potentially $5,000 for each spouse or dependant. However, it is unclear whether Dede’s family will be eligible.

The Transport Workers’ Union national secretary, Michael Kaine, said if the claim with iCare for statutory compensation was rejected, the union would pursue it as a test case at the Workers Compensation Commission.

“The wife and four-year-old son of Fredy Dede should get full compensation under our laws and they should not be pushed into poverty because of the way Uber structures its business,” he said.

“Riders are out on our streets day and night slogging for these multibillion dollar companies … The Australian community expects far better treatment for workers than this.

“We intend to take this claim all the way to the Workers Compensation Commission in a test case to extend full workers’ compensation rights to food delivery riders.”

Riley Munton said that for the claim to be successful in NSW, Dede’s lawyers would have to establish that he could be covered by section 5 and schedule 1, clause 2 of the NSW Workers Compensation Act.

“To the best of my knowledge, there is no decision yet establishing that they are covered by workers’ compensation in any state,” she said.

“I think there are reasonable arguments that they might be able to be brought within that definition, even as it stands, but to date, I am not aware of any cases that have found that they are.”

Riley Munton said that previous cases involving Uber ridershare drivers and food deliverers claiming workers compensation had been unsuccessful.

She said that in one case, Hassan v Uber Australia, the Workers Compensation Commission found that an Uber driver could not say he was even in a “contract of service” with Uber Australia, because technically, workers sign a contract with Rasier Pacific, a company registered in the Netherlands.

In the case of Kahin v Uber Australia Pty Ltd, an Uber Eats delivery worker was assaulted while collecting a delivery, but the arbitrator refused her application to access documents.

Regardless of the test case, Riley Munton said deliver riders could be covered by workers’ compensation if state parliament made slight changes to the workers’ compensation legislation.

Currently, other independent contractors, who are not employees, are covered by workers’ compensation through specially created deeming provisions.

“If the statute were amended to simply add a provision stating that food delivery cyclists were deemed workers for the purpose of the Act, and the local manifestation of the platform that they contract with is the deemed employer, there would be no room for doubt that they are covered,” she said.

“In my view, all of the other kinds of ‘deemed’ workers in state worker compensation legislation are similar categories of itinerant workers who work for someone else’s profit, but without an employment relationship.”

Kaine said the federal government should also play a role in regulating the gig economy.

“Grieving families of riders should not have to take on multinational Goliaths like Uber but a refusal by the federal government to regulate has left them with no choice,” he said.

Comment is being sought from Uber on the case.

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